BERLIN: Defender Gotoku Sakai has become the third Japanese player to retire from international duty on the heels of the squad’s heartbreaking World Cup exit following a last-gasp defeat to Belgium.
“I have always tried to support the team, but I couldn’t return the trust with performances,” the 27-year-old Sakai, who plays for second division German club Hamburg, told Friday’s edition of newspaper Bild. At the World Cup finals in Russia, Sakai, who made 42 appearances for Japan in six years, only featured in the 1-0 defeat to Poland in the group stages. He joins Blue Samurai captain Makoto Hasebe, 34, and AC Milan striker Keisuke Honda, 32, who have already announced their international retirements in the last few days. The trio stepped down in the wake of Monday’s 3-2 last-minute defeat to Belgium in the last 16. Japan crashed out after throwing away a two-goal lead in Rostov-on-Don when the Red Devils scored with last kick of the game when Nacer finished off a counter-attack.