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By ESPN Staff

Japan and Bolton midfielder Nakata to retire

TOKYO, July 3 (Reuters) - Hidetoshi Nakata, Japan's best-known soccer player and a veteran of three World Cups, announced his retirement on Monday.

'Nakata said on his Internet page that he is retiring. There is no mistake,' an official at his management company said.

The 29-year-old midfielder was Man of the Match when Japan drew with Croatia in the World Cup last month but his performance was not enough to help his team advance to the second round in Germany.

Nakata lay on the pitch for several minutes after Japan's 4-1 defeat by Brazil in their last group F game in the World Cup. He later wept in the locker room.

'It's the end of an era,' one Japanese soccer fan told NHK national television.

Nakata began his career in 1995 with Japanese team Bellmare Hiratsuka and moved to Italian side Perugia soon after his World Cup debut in 1998.

The former Asian Footballer of the Year spent the next seven years in Italy. In 2000 he moved to Roma and was part of the side that clinched the Serie A title in 2001.

He subsequently played for Parma, Bologna and Fiorentina before moving to English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers on loan in the 2005-2006 season, although he failed to win a regular first team place.

'The news isn't a surprise as far as I am concerned,' said Bolton manager Sam Allardyce on the club website. 'Hide has had the time to think about his future and has decided that the best outcome is for him to hang up his boots.

'He's had a glittering career and has achieved plenty in the domestic game,' he added.

'He will be remembered as the catalyst of Asian and Japanese football, and also the first Japanese export to European football.

'It was a privilege to work with him last season.'