05.12.2022 20:34 h

World Cup anguish for Japan fans as Blue Samurai crash out

Devastated Japan fans mourned their hopes for a historic quarter-final appearance as the Blue Samurai crashed out of the World Cup against Croatia in the small hours of Tuesday morning.

Despite the driving rain and chilly December temperatures, supporters packed into pubs for the kick-off at midnight local time, eager to see the country progress beyond the last 16 of football's global showpiece for the first time.

Expectations were high after Japan's stunning victories over Germany and Spain in the group stage, and the crowd at one bar in Tokyo erupted into rapturous chants of "Nippon! Nippon!" when they scored first.

But after an equaliser from Croatia, followed by extra time and a painful penalty shoot-out, fans were left nursing their dreams of the final eight.

"They tried so hard!" said IT worker Arai Shizuru, 39.

"It's sad, but I want to thank them for getting this far and keeping the dream alive... I didn't want it to go to penalties, but what can you do," she told AFP.

"This time, with so many players playing in European leagues, I thought we could have a breakthrough," said 24-year-old Hidetoshi Shiseki.

Eight of Japan's World Cup squad play in the German Bundesliga, with several others in European sides ranging from Arsenal to Monaco.

"But at the very end of the match, the team from Europe proved they had more potential after all. How disappointing," Shiseki said.

A 60-year-old fan who gave his nickname as Totti said Japan had lacked "a mean streak in the penalty shoot-out" and instead had played "in a straightforward way".

"They could have been more like Neymar, who moves very cunningly," he said.

Rina Ogawa, 24, said that even though "the result was a sad one, it was a good match".

In the group stage, with wins against Germany and Spain, "we already reached heights that we had never experienced before", she told AFP.

"One more inch, just one more inch -- I want to see them advance next time."