ROSTOV • Keisuke Honda said his country had a blueprint for the future despite being knocked out of the World Cup in painful fashion by Belgium on Monday.
Akira Nishino's side had been 2-0 up after goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui that showcased their technical ability.
They were set to to become only the third Asian nation - after South Korea in 2002 and North Korea in 1966 - to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, but Belgium completed the turnaround with a 94th-minute winner from substitute Nacer Chadli.
Once again the Japanese failed to win a World Cup knockout tie, after previous defeats at this stage as co-hosts in 2002, and in 2010. But Honda, who retired from international football yesterday, said this defeat should not be compared with the one on penalties against Paraguay at the same stage in South Africa eight years ago.
"That time, our team were more than 90 per cent playing in Japan, and just three or four playing in Europe," said the 32-year-old.
"We played just long ball and we couldn't keep the ball, we couldn't make chances like today, so we can't compare. Today, we showed how we proceed as Japanese football."
BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS
We can't compare (with the last-16 exit at the 2010 World Cup). Today, we showed how we proceed as Japanese football.
KEISUKE HONDA, retired Japan midfielder, believes the future is bright.
He was a substitute in Rostov, forcing Thibaut Courtois to save his long-range free kick in stoppage time. Belgium broke from the corner that followed to snatch the winner, leaving Japan distraught.
"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," said Nishino of the move that saw Belgium score in 9.94 seconds of Thibaut Courtois rolling the ball out to Kevin de Bruyne.
"I feel it was a tragedy, but I have to accept the defeat as a fact."
Nishino admitted he questioned his tactics and whether Japan should have controlled the game more at 2-0. But Honda insisted Japan could not have approached the game any other way.
"I don't think we can defend against Belgium," he said. "Our strength is to keep the ball. If we didn't try to do that and play aggressively, I don't think we would have scored and they could have scored four or five."
Japan finished the tournament with six goals, their highest tally in a World Cup campaign.
Their next assignment will be at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates early next year. But defender Maya Yoshida admitted that his side also need to look to future World Cups and aim to finally make it to a quarter-final.
"In terms of our development, and for our improvement, we need to go through the round of 16 constantly," said the Southampton centre-back.