Yoshida and Lukaku came together again last night and, for a large part in the game, it looked as if the former’s marking had subdued Belgium’s star striker and helped earn Japan a famous win. Ultimately, however, the Samurai Blue went down 3-2 after going into a two-goal lead in the second half, leaving the Southampton central defender to reflect ruefully on an opportunity missed.
“We had the win in our hands, but it slipped away from us,” Yoshida told FIFA.com. “We have often suffered when defending set-pieces, and that might be part of the reason. But in general, we were very poor at closing out the game after we got those two goals in the second half. ”
“Maybe there was a bit of mental weakness. But I just have no idea why it happened, whether it was over-confidence or a lack of experience at this stage of the competition – we were too naive and fragile. We could have played much better.”
The leader of the Samurai Blue back four will be 30 this August, and his football ability and physical condition mean that he could well take part in the next FIFA World Cup™. But he is thinking even further into the future.
“We played good football tonight. But as sometimes happens against a ‘big’ team, we couldn’t make it count. The Japan Football Association and the players must think seriously about our future youth development now. Physically, I think we can make up the gap between us and the more powerful teams. But this is a major problem.”
Yoshida concluded by giving an assessment of his team’s overall performance, and expressing his gratitude to the organisers of the tournament and the many volunteers.
“Thinking only of tonight’s game, you’d have to say that there are plenty of things to be sorted out. However, if you look at our tournament performance as a whole, you can see that we were capable of competing and playing attractive football at this level. I think we impressed not only our fans, but the rest of the world as well.
“As for the organisation of this tournament, let me give many thanks to the volunteers for their devoted work. Thanks to them, I really enjoyed this month!”