Japan were dealt a tough hand at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012 in Thailand. Drawn alongside record titleholders Brazil, European heavyweights Portugal and Libya in Group B, the Asian champions faced a daunting task in reaching the knockout phase.
Their hopes were further dented by a 4-1 opening defeat against the South Americans, but a 5-5 draw with the Iberians and subsequent 4-2 victory against Libya ensured Miguel Rodrigo's side secured their place in the last 16.
Key to the Samarai Blue's third-place finish in the group were the goals of Kotaro Inaba, who explained his satisfaction with the team's progress in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
"I'm certainly not disappointed," said the 29-year-old. "We thought we could come third when the draw was made despite it being a very difficult group. We've got four points and are very happy with that. It gives us plenty of confidence heading into the last 16."
Now the Japanese, who claimed continental glory by beating Thailand in the final of the AFC Futsal Championship back in May, take on a Ukraine side who drew 3-3 with Paraguay and overcame hosts Thailand 5-3 and Costa Rica 6-1 in Group A.
"It's the first time that we've qualified for the second round of a Futsal World Cup," said Inaba. "If we do win against Ukraine, I'm sure Japanese futsal will make great strides. My team-mates and I are going to do our very best."
So far Inaba has done just that at Thailand 2012, scoring his side's only goal against Brazil in Japan's opening loss before netting a brace in their final group match against Libya. Asked for his thoughts on his own contribution in the host cities of Nakhon Ratchasima and Bangkok, Inaba appeared reluctant to accept any personal praise.
"I'm happy to have scored three goals, but I'm not satisfied with my own performances as I could have scored more goals against Brazil and Libya. I'll be doing everything I can to help the team with more goals against Ukraine."
Inaba's modesty typifies the importance of team spirit within the Japan camp at Thailand 2012, something the skilful forward further emphasised when revealing the secret behind the squad's success.
"In the match against Portugal it was clear to see what makes us so strong. It's the unity we have. This team has a real communal spirit. We don't do anything for ourselves on the pitch, it's all for the team. That's the priority – we're like a family."