James Lawton: Blue Samurai show England how to play with pride in the shirt

While France and England were the despair of their nations, Japan showed how far you could go when you fight to the last bead of sweat

Japan are still in the margins of world football's elite. Indeed, between the Blue Samurai and the big yellow machine of Brazil there remains a vast gulf of history and technique.

However, between the team that departed the big stage so stoically here yesterday, who over these last few weeks have displayed impressively the wit and touch of a player like the now celebrated running, shooting brand name Keisuke Honda, and some other older powers of the game, you wouldn't begin to define the gap anything so graphically.

No prizes for guessing who we might have in mind. While France and England were the despair of their nations, Japan showed quite how far you could go when you are ready to fight to the last bead of sweat, when you bring to football's greatest tournament the shining quality of pride.

Paraguay, strictly speaking, were the better team and deserved their historic passage into the quarter-finals. Yet you couldn't have drawn a line between the South Americans and opponents who in the end lost by one mis-directed penalty.

The culprit was 28-year-old Yuichi Komano, a full-back famed for his perfect defensive inclinations, a hard tackler of relentless application – and, of course, moral courage.

That's what it takes to step to the line after 120 minutes of deadlock with a team of superior skill and deeper football culture. Komano's failure allowed Paraguay to go beyond their previous high-points of achievement, second-round defeats by England, France and Italy, but when Oscar Cardozo of Benfica swept in rather imperiously their fifth immaculate penalty, there was no sense that he had been separated from a team of wonderful commitment.

Paraguay had been unflinching against the crumbling world champions Italy in their opening group game but they made no easy assumptions about their ability to contain the force of football's rising sun. It is not one which is likely to blind us with virtuosity in the near future but there is, plainly, a level of resolve and eagerness to produce the very best of themselves which will not be quickly forgotten.

They also won the inscrutability award, perhaps not surprisingly, by the width of the Sea of Japan. When Komano blazed the wrong side of the woodwork, coach Takeshi Okada didn't move an eye-lid. The player was then helped from the field with a firm hand and an understanding that there is no cruelty in any theatre of sport to compare with the one imposed upon a man who will always know that he was, however arbitrarily, the reason for his team's exit from their finest moments.

For Paraguay's Argentine coach Gerard Martino the moment of success was a time of engulfing emotion. He had fretted for so long over the failure of his team to claim with more authority the few chances that came in action that was relentlessly pursued – but without too much creative clarity.

Paraguay can claim, though, to have battled through plenty of turbulence of their own. Many fans argued that there were too many Argentine-born players in their squad but Martino defended the policy with some vigour. "It's not an easy problem. I see it less as a consequence of nationalism, more a matter of football taste. The discussion usually centres on whether the player is good enough, and in my mind there is no argument. The Argentine-born players qualify as Paraguayans – they are blood descendents of families who moved from their homes for economic reasons. So they have emotion for Paraguay as well as the required level of football skill." That wasn't always blazingly evident, and certainly not in the anonymous performance of Manchester City's expensive Roque Santa Cruz. He was withdrawn before the nervy wind-down to the shoot-out.

Paraguay, finally, showed the composure that has marked so much of the South American effort here. They also completed their historic mission to reach the quarter-finals of the great tournament, a place at least a little closer to Brazil and Argentina. The crusade could scarcely have had a less encouraging start when their best forward, Salvador Cabanas, was in January shot in the head in a Mexico City nightclub at 5am.

The bullet lodged at the back of his skull and the star of leading Mexican team Club America hovered on the danger list for some time. So too did his former team-mates as the Blue Samurai made their last charge for unprecedented World Cup glory. It wasn't a great game and it never moved too far towards the centre of the stage. But it did have integrity and it did show how far you can go if you have a mind for the challenge – and a seriously competitive heart.

The message was there for anyone inclined to receive it, but perhaps on this matter we should not hold our breath.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past