British Press – After the agonising nature of their last-16 defeat by Belgium, Japan’s World Cup squad and their thousands of fans would have been forgiven for leaving the Rostov Arena as swiftly as possible.
A number of Japan players were in tears after being knocked out of the tournament when a late, late goal from Nacer Chadli sealed a 3-2 comeback victory for Belgium.
But, as revealed by FIFA general coordinator Priscilla Janssens on Twitter, Japan’s squad went to extra lengths to thank their hosts in Russia as they bowed out.
Sharing a picture of their spotless post-match dressing room, Janssens wrote: ‘This is the Japanese dressing room (sic) after losing to Belgium in the 94’ minute.
‘Thanked their fans in the stadium, cleaned up everything (bench and dressing room) and spoke to media. Even left note with ‘thank you’ in Russian.
‘What an example for all teams!! Privilege to work with!’
Japan’s fans were also pictured collecting rubbish from the stands moments after watching their side crash out in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Their travelling supporters in Russia have been seen staying behind after each of their matches to help stadium workers to clear away litter.
And on Monday, this was all after Japan seemed destined to cause the latest shock of a dramatic World Cup.
They carved out a 2-0 lead over Belgium – one of the favourites to win the tournament – in the second half in Rostov, thanks to two goals in four minutes from Genki Haraguchi (48) and Takashi Inui (52).
But Belgium replied with a quick-fire double of their own; Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen sparked the comeback in the 69th minute and Marouane Fellaini hauled them level five minutes later.
Belgium then stole victory in the 94th minute when Thibaut Courtois caught a Japan corner and started a sweeping counter-attack through Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne found Thomas Muenier surging forward on the right and his low cross was left by Romelu Lukaku for the onrushing Chadli to convert from close range.
‘I do not want to really admit it but this was a tragedy, but I have to accept this defeat as a fact. I feel devastated, very disappointed,’ Japan coach Akira Nishino said.
‘The players played to the best of their abilities, we were able to show good football on the pitch but our aim was to go to the next round so I cannot call this a success.
‘I told the players to go and take a shower because they were just standing there not able to do anything.
‘It’s not just that we played well, but we had to win this game, we wanted to win, our team were strong enough and we were able to match Belgium and I believed we could beat them.
‘When they scored I questioned whether I was in control in the game, and thought that I should be blamed and not the players. I blamed myself, I questioned my tactics,’ he added.
‘I wanted my players to have a different mentality to Japanese teams in the past, I think we succeeded in having a different mentality but there was something missing in our skills and powers.’
Belgium play Brazil in the quarter-final at 7pm on Friday at the Kazan Arena.