Japan, Asia's last representatives in South Africa, found the net four times in four games but could not find a way past Paraguay as their last 16 clash ended 0-0 after extra-time before the South Americans won a penalty shoot-out 5-3.
"It's very difficult to narrow down one single reason why we were not able to score," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada. "We're not a team which can score many goals and we have to take every chance we get but we were not able to do so." Okada, who boldy set his target of a semi-final spot in South Africa, used CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda in an attempt to boost the team's firepower.
Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai said: "It's disappointing. There's nothing we can do if we were outdone in the 90 minutes. But when we were outdone after reaching the shootout, it really hurts."
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was unable to stop a single Paraguay penalty and Yuichi Komano's kick hit the crossbar as the team's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time were doomed. "I regret it because things would have gone the other way if I stopped any of the kicks," said Kawashima. "I am disappointed because we wanted to win as many matches as possible."
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said there were areas to be worked on ahead of the next FIFA World Cup in 2014. "Our attack has improved match by match. But we need to raise the level of our individual skills in order to fight the rest of the world," he said.
Honda, who helped CSKA Moscow reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals after moving from Dutch side Venlo in January, scored two goals and set up another as Japan stunned Cameroon and Denmark, as well as holding the Dutch to a 1-0 defeat in the group stage.
"We couldn't achieve our goal and we must take it seriously," said Honda, who has emerged from the shadow of former Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura as Japan's most influential player. "I'm really frustrated personally. We must improve our individual skills from now on.
"But life in football will go on. Everyone of us has come to know what we badly need at this tournament. And we must sort it out in the next four years to come. We must show the world that we can fight more aggressively."