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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent