FIFA World Cup 2018: Tearful Japan fans crushed by last-gasp loss to Belgium | football | Hindustan Times
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FIFA World Cup 2018: Tearful Japan fans crushed by last-gasp loss to Belgium

The Japan national football team were given little chance of making an impact at the FIFA World Cup 2018, but their gritty group stage display and last-16 match versus Belgium won over fans.

football Updated: Jul 03, 2018 09:37 IST
Reuters
Reuters
Tokyo
FIFA World Cup 2018,World Cup 2018,Belgium vs Japan
A Japan fan cries after the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at the Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, Russia on July 2, 2018. (REUTERS)

Japanese football fans fought back tears and wondered what could have been after a last-gasp goal by Belgium crushed their dreams of a historic FIFA World Cup 2018 quarter-final berth in heartbreaking fashion. (BEL v JPN report)

The Samurai Blue looked on track to reach their first quarter-final in three last-16 attempts after going 2-0 ahead early in the second half, only to see the Belgium national football team roar back and snatch a 3-2 win with an explosive counter-attack deep into stoppage time. (BEL v JPN highlights)

“When we took the lead I thought we were going to win,” said 21-year-old university student Nao Okada, who burst into tears at a Tokyo sports bar as the final whistle sounded.

“It hurts but it was a really good game and I feel moved. I want Japan to keep playing hard next time,” she said.

READ | ‘It’s a shame’ - Neymar earns Twitter’s wrath for rolling antics vs Mexico

The 61st-ranked Japanese were given little chance of making an impact at the tournament, but their gritty group stage display and last-16 match versus Belgium won over the fans.

“This was a really good team, their passing and scoring and teamwork,” said 39-year-old hairdresser Kenichi Okegami.

“At 2-2 I thought we were heading for a penalty shootout... it’s crushing,” he said.

Belgium became the first side to win a World Cup knockout game from two goals down since 1970, making the loss all the more gut-wrenching for Japan and their supporters.

READ | Belgium proved winning mentality in stunning comeback: Roberto Martinez

“Just a little bit more... it was a harsh result,” said Kenta Saito, 61, a former school soccer coach and a qualified referee.

“They had chances at the end but they couldn’t grab them,” he said.

Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya pedestrian scramble, normally the site of post-game revelry, was markedly more subdued as fans staggered out of sports bars into the harsh early daylight after the game wrapped up at about 5 a.m. local time.

Still, supporters tried to take away positives from the result, taking pride in a better performance than the 1-0 loss to Poland that saw Japan advance from the group stage on the strength of a better disciplinary record.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Neymar ‘acting’ against Mexico a poor example - Juan Carlos Osorio

Japan drew criticism for their tactics in the Poland match after playing the final several minutes passing around the ball to run down the clock, knowing they would advance despite a loss.

“Today’s was a good game so it made up for all that passing last time,” said Okada, the university student.

First Published: Jul 03, 2018 09:26 IST