ITU, Brazil - Overcome with emotion at Japan's group-stage departure from the World Cup, defender Yuto Nagatomo had to step away from the cameras Wednesday to collect himself. A team staff member hugged him as he wept quietly.
"We've worked hard for four years, but our dream ended so quickly without producing any results-I feel empty. It's pathetic," Nagatomo said after returning. All 23 members of the national team spoke to the press on Wednesday.
The national football team was disbanded on the day, one day after the Samurai Blue were eliminated from the World Cup by their loss to Colombia.
Nagatomo, who belongs to Inter Milan, was one of the players who had publicly stated that his goal was to win the title in Brazil.
When the media asked him about coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who had earlier announced his resignation, Nagatomo said, "I'm bitterly disappointed that we couldn't give him a win [at the World Cup.]"
Nagatomo said he thought of retiring from the national team after Tuesday's game against Colombia but soon changed his mind.
"I don't want to give up," he said. "As an athlete, nothing can match the joy of playing for the Japanese flag. I promise to achieve results next time."
Captain Makoto Hasebe also expressed remorse over Zaccheroni's resignation, saying the coach once likened Hasebe's captaincy to that of Paolo Maldini, the long-time captain of the Italian national team and AC Milan. Zaccheroni coached Maldini at the Italian club.
Hasebe said he once suggested Zaccheroni replace him as captain, saying a younger player would better serve the role, but the Italian coach refused.
"He said, 'There are only two players who could be called a genuine captain-Maldini and you.'
"I always felt his deep trust," Hasebe added.
Zaccheroni said at a press conference earlier in the day: "Our stumble in the first game of this short tournament made it difficult for us to play our style of football.
"However, our policy of trying to take the initiative in a game even against higher-ranked teams is something that should be continued. I believe I have left a legacy to Japan."
Most of the team's players and staff will leave Brazil for Japan on Friday.