Japan steal World Cup hearts with dignified and classy response to cruel exit
Japan stole the hearts of football fans around the world with their remarkably dignified response to being dumped out of the World Cup.
The Samurai Blue let slip a two-goal lead as Belgium scored three second-half goals to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
West Brom's Nacer Chadli scored the winning goal with the last kick of the game to leave Japan's players crestfallen.
It was the third time Japan has failed to make the last eight in the World Cup.
The disappointment was obvious, with some of the players falling on their knees in despair after the final whistle, while others were reduced to tears.
Japan head coach Akira Nishino said his players were so devastated by the defeat they just stood around doing nothing in the locker room after the match. "I told them to take a shower," said Nishino.
Despite suffering the heartbreak of such a cruel defeat, Japan players took the time to clean their dressing-room, leaving the Rostov changing area in immaculate condition.
Amazing from Japan.— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 3, 2018
This is how they left the changing room after losing v Belgium: cleaned it all.
And in the middle, have left a message to Russia: “Spasibo” (Thank you) pic.twitter.com/lrwoIZt2pR
They even left a small note reading "Thank you" in Russian on a table in the middle of the room.
There were similarly touching scenes in the stands where despondent Japan supporters stayed behind in Rostov to clean the stadium, just minutes after watching their side's devastating defeat.
"We started off very well, but at the end, right at the end, to have conceded a goal like that, it was not expected," Nishino told reporters.
"We were leading and we were going to win, but I didn't expect this reversal of the result. It was the World Cup, and we were faced with the depth and the strength of Belgium. That's how I felt at the end of the game."
"It might have been a very small difference, but I felt there wasn't anything between (separating) us. The players throughout this tournament were very positive, better than in the past.
"Even against the likes of Belgium, they were confident.But that little difference has to be filled going forward," he said.
"(At the end) I was questioning myself, whether I had control of the game. We were 2-0 up, and still the score was reversed. It wasn't the players. Maybe it was me who lost control of the game. When the (Belgium's third) goal was conceded, I blamed myself, and I questioned my tactics."