Japan coach Takeshi Okada assumed responsibility for his side's FIFA World Cup™ exit at the hands of Paraguay in what could have been his final game in charge of the Blue Samurai.
The Japanese were looking to make it through to the last eight of a FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history in Pretoria yesterday, but it ended up being the South Americans achieving that same goal. After a largely uninspiring 120 minutes of action which produced no goals and only a handful of goalmouth incidents, Paraguay claimed their maiden appearance in the quarter-finals with a 5-3 win in the penalty shoot-out.
After the match in Pretoria, Okada shouldered the blame for Japan's exit, saying: "In terms of how we played, I have no regrets at all. The players were really wonderful and they've been truly proud of being Japanese and also representing Asia as a whole. They played until the end and I'm proud of them. I was not able to make them win - that's my responsibility. I didn't make them eager enough. It wasn't sufficient on my part."
When quizzed further on the subject, Okada added: "I didn't insist enough - I can't elaborate any further. When I look back at what I could have done for the players, I think that as head coach I should be more insistent on winning. That's really the only thought that came to mind after the match."
The FIFA World Cup exit could herald the end of Okada's reign as coach. Okada, who declared ahead of the World Cup that they were aiming for a place in the last four and then found himself under pressure following a poor build-up to South Africa, said when asked about his future: "I don't think I have anything left to do now."
While Okada and his side return to Japan after becoming the final Asian team to bid farewell to the FIFA World Cup, Paraguay's adventure continues and they are now moving into uncharted territory. The South Americans progressed to the last 16 for the third time in the last four World Cups after winning Group E, and this time they were able to make the next step as well by seeing off the Japanese.
An emotional coach Gerardo Martino wept at the end of the match after experiencing the "luck" of winning the shoot-out. "It's the first time that Paraguay have made the quarter-finals and the same would have applied to Japan," he said. "I just think we were lucky during the penalties - that made the difference.
"There's a lot of fear, there's a lot of tension during a match. When you get all the way to the penalty shoot-out you make a huge effort, and then the tension is released. So many things go through your mind, so there's the reason for the tears."
When asked if this result was the most important of his career, Argentinian Martino said: "I understand that this is a success, and I don't want to take any importance away from the fact we've made it to the quarter-finals. We are among the best eight teams in the world, but to say it's my most important success, I wouldn't dare say that."