Japan coach Akira Nishino admitted his surprise at the lightning fast counter-attack goal that cost his side dearly in their 3-2 defeat to Belgium on Monday.
The Samurai Blue were on the verge of extra time when Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois launched a blistering counter in the 94th-minute that ended up with Nacer Chadli sliding home the winner.
“We started off very well, but at the end, right at the very end, to concede a goal like that is not expected,” Nishino said after the game.
It will hurt, but Japan's World Cup was far from a failure. Their coach through qualifying was fired two months before the tournament. They started all over again with Akira Nishino. And yet Japan came so close to a first-ever quarter-final appearance. Heads up.
— Anthony Lopopolo (@sportscaddy) July 2, 2018
He added that he would have to wait to talk to the players about the game as they were too stunned.
“I told the players to take a shower in the changing room, because they were just standing around stunned. I will talk to them when we are back at the hotel,” he said.
“When we were 2-0 up and I didn’t change my players, I really wanted another goal, we were controlling the game but at that point Belgium upped their game when they really had to,” Nishino added.
“We were determined to disrupt a Belgium side at their best, but at the end we couldn’t really match them.”
Belgium, who had been trailing 2-0 after goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui, pulled one back through Jan Vertonghen’s fluke header in the 69th minute before substitute Marouane Fellaini equalised five minutes later.
Keisuke Honda then tried his luck with a long-range free-kick in injury time just before that fateful attack.
“We wanted to decide the match with a late free-kick and I thought we were going into extra-time, but we didn’t expect that kind of super counter-attack,” the coach said.