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.

News
people'Interview of the year' no letdown
Sport
Wayne Rooney
sportBut which sporting Brit beats him to top spot in Sunday Times Rich List?
News
Maxine Peake at home in front of a poster for Keeping Rosy
people
Arts and Entertainment
Boys in blue: Peter Firth and (right) Kit Harington in Spooks
filmHow well will Spooks make the leap from the small to the big screen?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Royal fans covered with Union Jacks and royal memorabilia wait for Kate, Duchess of Cambridge to go into the Lindo wing at St Mary's Hospital to give birth to her second child in London, Friday, April 24, 2015.
peopleLive updates in the wait for Duchess of Cambridge's second child
Sport
Arsène Wenger (left) and Jose Mourinho have to be separated by the fourth official, Jon Moss, during last October’s Premier League match at Stamford Bridge
football
Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road