Look back - Look ahead: Japan
Kuala Lumpur: There was success, disappointment and lessons learned as the five Asian teams concluded their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaigns. They will all now turn their attention to AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 with a continental crown up for grabs.
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic's departure from the Japan helm shortly before the World Cup might not have seemed the ideal preparation for Russia 2018 with Akira Nishino stepping into the breach in a temporary role.
Nevertheless, Japan's campaign in Russia proved to be the highlight of Asia's representatives, as they repeated their efforts of 2002 and 2010 in reaching the Round of 16 - the only side from the continent to do so at Russia 2018 - before bowing out bravely to eventual third-placed side Belgium.
A high level of performances all-around at the World Cup was unquestionably a boost ahead of UAE 2019, but can the next generation step up to replace the outgoing veterans?
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World Cup Summary
Japan faced arguably the toughest opponent in their group in their 2018 World Cup opener with South American side Colombia, having lost to them 4-1 in Brazil .
An early red card for Carlos Sanchez and a penalty converted by Shinji Kagawa was the perfect start for the Samurai Blue, but they had to battle back from seeing their lead snuffed out by Juan Quintero. A Yuya Osako winner in the second half capped the perfect revenge for Brazil 2014.
A rollercoaster 2-2 draw with Senegal was next up, before a slim 1-0 defeat to Poland proved enough to edge Japan through as second place in the group and set up a date with Belgium in the last 16.
Against the much-fancied Europeans, Japan saved their best performance for last and dramatically took the lead through Genki Haraguchi before doubling the advantage in stunning fashion through Takashi Inui.
The fairytale was not to last, sadly, as Belgium came back to find three goals in the final 25 minutes and eliminate the brave Samurai Blue.
In a post-World Cup press conference back in Japan, Nishino confirmed he would not be looking to take on the head coach role long term and the Japan Football Association would begin looking for a replacement.
The Samurai Blue also have some big shoes to fill amongst the playing staff with veterans including Keisuke Honda and captain Makoto Hasebe retiring from international duty.
Thank you my World Cup and my dream. You raised me up until today.— KeisukeHonda(本田圭佑) (@kskgroup2017) July 3, 2018
Top Prospect for AC2019
Few players under 26 years old were named in Nishino's final Russia 2018 squad with the two youngest players who were in the 23 (Kosuke Nakamura and Naomichi Ueda) getting zero minutes on the field.
With a new coach set to be named, and space in the side with some of the senior players calling time on their Japan careers, there could be opportunities for the likes of Leeds United midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi.
The 21-year-old midfielder played an important role in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers for Japan and a spell in England's second tier under revolutionary coach Marcelo Bielsa could prove a boon to a young player with a great deal of potential.
What Comes Next?
A lot will depend on the identity of the new head coach, but it is likely his first tests will be friendlies in September against Chile and Costa Rica, before an October tie against Panama.
Filling the spaces left by the outgoing veterans will be key, as will maintaining the good feeling amongst the squad following a positive World Cup campaign.
There will also need to be a decision made about who wears the gloves at UAE 2019. Nishino's first-choice goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima experienced ups and downs at Russia 2018, stunning saves mixed with unfortunate errors, and young understudy Kosuke Nakamura is highly touted.
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