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World Cup: Tears give way to cheers for Japan

July 1, 2010 | 10:59 am

Japan_400 Japan’s players bowed out of the World Cup in tears after their penalty-shootout loss to Paraguay, which followed two scoreless hours on the pitch. But their performance was greeted with cheers back home, with thousands of fans in Osaka greeting the team at the airport Thursday waving flags that read, "Thank you."

Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan was full of praise.

"They showed the world the real strength of Japanese soccer by working as a team," he said.

The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's leading newspapers, was more laudatory: "This experience surely will become the flesh and blood of Japanese soccer. It was a precious 120 minutes," it wrote under a headline that read, "Surprised the world."

The South Korean team also earned congratulations at home for reaching the second round before losing to Uruguay. Huge crowds had gathered in public squares all over the country to watch the team's games on big-screen TVs.

This World Cup marked the only time other than 2002, when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the tournament, that either team had advanced out of the first round.

-- Kevin Baxter in Johannesburg, South Africa

Photo: Japan Coach Takeshi Okada, right, accompanied by Emirates airline flight attendants, waves at cheering fans upon the team's arrival from the World Cup. Credit: Kyodo News / Associated Press.