Yuto Nagatomo: Japan’s fighting spirit was on display

Ken Satomi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Samurai Blue captain Maya Yoshida (22) vies for the ball in the second half of extra time in the World Cup round-of-16 match against Croatia in Qatar on Monday.

AL WAKRAH, Qatar — Japan has again failed to advance to the quarterfinals of a World Cup, falling to 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia in the penalty shootout of their round-of-16 match in Qatar on Monday.

“Japan’s fighting spirit was on display,” veteran defender Yuto Nagatomo said after the game. “The result is disappointing, but Japanese soccer is definitely improving,” said Nagatomo, who also featured in Japan’s last-minute loss against Belgium in the round of 16 at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

Wiping away tears, captain Maya Yoshida said, “Over the last four years, I’ve tried different things and challenged myself, so I’m really disappointed we didn’t get a result in the end.”

Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, who made several difficult saves to keep Japan in the game, said: “I’ve tried to do everything I could over the last four years, but it wasn’t enough. I want to develop as a goalie over the next four years and aim to reach the quarterfinals or semis.”

“We showed that Japan has entered a new era [in which we can challenge the world],” said Coach Hajime Moriyasu. “I firmly believe someday we’ll get over this wall and into the last eight.”