'I'm very proud of Japan': Fans hail Samurai Blue's courage despite Croatia penalty heartache at World Cup
AL WAKRAH, Qatar: The pain was still palpable, the defeat still raw.
Speaking to CNA after Japan's painful penalty shootout defeat to Croatia, Samurai Blue fan Kanako Koni took a moment to compose herself.
"I think they played a good game .... against a team that was runners-up at the last World Cup," she said.
"This was a good match and there was fighting spirit from Japan," added Japan supporter Ikeda Seeichiro.
At Al Janoub Stadium on Monday (Dec 5), Hajime Moriyasu’s men fell to wily campaigners Croatia, losing 3-1 on penalties.
Spot kicks by Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida were all kept out by Croatia's Dominik Livakovic. The Croatians would go on to seal the victory when Mario Pasalic sent Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda the wrong way.
The match had ended 1-1, with Daizen Maeda giving Japan a first-half lead, before Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia early in the second half.
"I feel a little bit sorry, a little sad. But football is football," said Mr Seeichiro.
Despite the heartbreak, Japanese fans like Ms Koni said they were proud of Moriyasu's men.
In a group with four-time champions Germany and 2010 winners Spain, Japan would beat both sides en route to topping Group E.
"I'm very proud of the Japanese team and I'm proud of Japan," said Ms Koni. "We beat Spain and Germany - that's amazing.
"First we won against Germany - I didn't expect that. After that, I thought that we could win against Costa Rica, but we lost and we were depressed about that. I really didn't expect that we would win against Spain, but they did."
"We continued fighting all the way," said Mr Soshi Kawashima. "Never gave up (even against) strong teams like Spain and Germany."
Monday's defeat marks the fourth time Japan have been eliminated in the round of 16. But with a team with substantial talent, supporters are optimistic for the 2026 World Cup.
"I hope so. Nowadays many Japanese players play outside of Japan, in Europe," said Ms Koni. "So I hope that after four years we can proceed to the best eight."
Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup.