Akira Nishino

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Japan manager Nishino “devastated” after World Cup collapse


Japanese boss Akria Nishino had to be feeling pretty great, if not elated, when his Samurai Blue scored twice in five second-half minutes to take a stunning if not deserved 2-0 lead over Belgium in the World Cup’s Round of 16 on Monday.

[ RECAP: Belgium 3-2 Japan ]

The former Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus boss had, after all, just taken over the managerial chair in April, and now had Japan about 40 minutes from the nation’s first quarterfinal berth.

What a difference 45 minutes can make. Belgium scored three times, once in the fourth minute of stoppage, to upend the Samurai Blue and set up a meeting with Brazil.

“I don’t want to admit it,” Nishiro said. “I do feel that it was a tragedy but I have to accept the defeat as a fact.”

Nishino hurts. From the BBC:

“I am devastated. Yes we took the lead but we couldn’t win. It might have been a very small difference but I felt there was nothing in it. Maybe it was my decisions as a coach or my tactics, and we couldn’t keep up with Belgium, who upped their game.”

These are defeats that live in memories for a long, long time. Moments from stoppage, and a much needed break given the momentum on Belgium’s side, the Samurai Blue will be left to wonder what if on a play which could’ve been affected by at least 63 percent of its XI.

2018 World Cup team preview: Japan

AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
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Getting to know Japan: It’s a sixth-straight appearance for Japan, who has either been terrible or inspiring every other tournament.

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Thrice winless and twice Round of 16 combatants, the Samurai Blue are sound but need to find goals if they want to return to the knockout rounds.

For more history on Japan, click here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

What group are they in? Group H. Japan is probably the underdog of the bunch, with Poland, Colombia, and Senegal all capable of claiming top honors

Game schedule – Group H – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Tuesday, June 19: Colombia v Japan, Saransk 8 a.m. ET
Sunday, June 24: Japan v Senegal, Yekaterinburg 11 a.m. ET
Thursday, June 28: Japan v Poland, Volgograd 10 a.m. ET

Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Kawashima —–

— Sakai — Yoshida — Shoji — Nagatomi

—- Haraguchi —- Hasebe —- Yamaguchi —-

—- Honda —- Osako —- Usami —-

Star player: Maya Yoshida — The Southampton center back underwent a tumultuous season at St. Mary’s, but is one of several experienced Japanese backs in the fold for Russia.

Manager: Akira Nishino – Twelve times capped by Japan, the 63-year-old former Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus Eight boss gets his first chance to shine at a World Cup.

Secret weapon: Shinji Okazaki — It may seem goofy to label a Premier League striker with 50 international goals as Japan’s secret weapon, but Leicester City’s bench spark plug has a similar role at this stage of his career for the Samurai Blue. He’s the third all-time goal scorer in Japanese history, though goals have been few and far between for Okazaki since 2016.

Prediction: Fourth in a very good group.