On the bright side, at least it finished. There was a point where it felt like these two could play all night and still not score. In the end Paraguay won on penalties, the width of a crossbar sending Takeshi Okada’s side home, the South Americans winning the right to be passed to death by Spain on Saturday evening.
Japan had turned heads and raised eyebrows with a fluid team display in their last match against Denmark and started in much the same vein, Okubo and Komano firing shots from distance in the first three minutes, the former flashing just wide, the latter saved by Villar at his near post. But thereafter it wasn’t so much downhill as a drop off a cliff, and then sea level for the ensuing 85 minutes.
Dull doesn’t quite describe it. Japan were negative in the extreme; Paraguay had only conceded once and scored three coming into the match and didn’t look like they much fancied adding to either tally. It was a little too reminiscent of the first round of group stages where the emphasis was on not losing.
The first half saw few chances. Lucas Barrios found half a yard of space in the box with a neat little turn which Kawashima did well to keep out, diving low to his right. Daisuke Matsui struck the bar with a curling effort from just outside the area. But that aside this was a game of wasted possession, of misplaced passes and hopeful shots from range.
The second half was notable only for Marcus Tulio Tanaka taking a knee in the face as his goalkeeper rose to punch clear a free kick. Penalties seemed inevitable and all those watching would have preferred if they just got on with it there and then rather than subject us all to any further torment.
In fairness, it did pick up a little in extra time, but by then most were comatose. Barrios and Valdez had half-chances for Paraguay; Honda’s long range shot was going wide but Villar saved it anyway, presumably for want of something better to do.
Eventually the tournament had its first penalty shootout, Komano missing Japan’s third to send the Blue Samurai home. Paraguay scored all five so will probably try and repeat this tedious exercise against Spain. Takeshi Okada may look back and wonder what might have been had he sent out his side to play as they had against Denmark.