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 By Reuters

Japan coach Akira Nishino to step down following World Cup exit

Free-Kick: Belgium edge past Japan while Neymar leads Brazil to last eight; Kane sets his sights on the Golden boot

Japan coach Akira Nishino will leave his position when his contract expires at the end of this month, the Japanese Football Association (JFA) and the manager said on Thursday.

Speaking as the squad returned to Tokyo following their World Cup round-of-16 defeat by Belgium, Nishino said this had always been the plan.

"My contract ends at the end of this month," Nishino said. "And I have been working on the assumption that this job would last from the moment I was appointed to the end of the World Cup."

The JFA said they will decide on Nishino's successor by the end of the month, with reports in Japan saying Jurgen Klinsmann is their top target.

Nishino, JFA's former technical director, took over as national team coach in April following the surprise dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic, who had secured Japan's qualification to the World Cup.

Despite having very little time to work with the squad, Nishino's Japan performed well in Russia, qualifying from a tricky Group H before running Belgium very close in the round-of-16.

Japan held a 2-0 lead before the European side came back to win 3-2 with a last minute winner.

Japan's captain Makoto Hasebe, who announced his retirement from international football, said the team could reflect on the World Cup with pride.

"People had low expectations of us, and we talked about turning the situation around," said Hasebe, who finishes with 114 caps for his country.

"I think everyone became interested in soccer again, so in that way, I think we did a good job."

Japan also drew plaudits from around the world for their fans who cleaned up stadiums after each of their fixtures in Russia.

Photographs of the team's changing room also showed it to be pristine but Hasebe said this was due to the team's support staff, not the players themselves.

"Staff of the team cleaned up our locker room perfectly at each of our games before leaving the venue," he said.

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