Assessment: Japan left disappointed
Japan will leave their fifth World Cup at the group stages and ESPNFC's John Duerden looks back at their campaign.
One sentence, World Cup recap
The gap between high expectations and the realities of football on the biggest stage was bitterly disappointing.
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
It certainly wasn't Shinji Kagawa, anonymous for the first game and then dropped for the second, or Keisuke Honda, despite his stunning goal early against Ivory Coast. The two full-backs Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo had their moments, while goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was solid enough apart from a serious error in the opener. Makoto Hasebe was probably the best performer overall and his drive from midfield was missed after he was taken off against Ivory Coast. Perhaps if the captain had not started the summer recovering from injury, it all might have turned out a little different, though perhaps not.
It has to be the goal against Ivory Coast. It seems so long ago but Keisuke Honda's first touch was sublime and his finish was fantastic. The Milan man was not in the best form pre-tournament, but here was early evidence that everything was going to be OK. It suggested that this was going to be Japan's time and that the expectations were not misplaced. It suggested that three points were imminent and the second round and maybe more were very much on the cards. Sadly that was as high as it got.
It is hard to look past the second half against Ivory Coast, both in terms of what happened and its consequences. A goal to the good, Japan retreated in the face of sustained physical pressure and were starting to struggle. The introduction of Didier Drogba produced further cracks in the wall and it wasn't a surprise when the equaliser came -- even if nobody was expecting what turned out to be the winner less than two minutes later, a goal that was a carbon copy of the first. Japan never recovered from that defeat.
Japan showed their talent at times but need to do so more consistently, even when things are not going according to plan. Struggling to impose themselves on the biggest stage, they also suffered from a lack of options, as the Greece game, in which Japan had huge amounts of possession but struggled to do much with it, demonstrated.
More confidence to play their own game and a little more street smarts are necessary in order to get an unlikely win or protect a lead when under serious pressure. Keeping things tight at the back and turning a much higher percentage of chances into goals, as Colombia demonstrated, would also be nice. With Alberto Zaccheroni departing after the final game, the stage is set for a new coach to try to push the side onward.