By Michael Church
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - Keisuke Honda announced his retirement from international football following Japan's elimination from the World Cup at the hands of Belgium on Monday night.
The 32-year-old came off the bench late in the last-16 clash with Roberto Martinez's side, but was unable to prevent his side from slipping to an agonising 3-2 loss.
"Today we showed how we can proceed as Japanese football," the former AC Milan midfielder told reporters after the match.
"I might have finished my career for the national team, but I'm happy because we have many young players following us, and I think that they will make new history for Japanese football."
Japan held a two-goal lead in the 52nd minute following strikes from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui, but Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini levelled the scores before Nacer Chadli’s injury time goal secured a dramatic win for Belgium.
"This is the last World Cup for me," Honda added. "That’s the reality. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to take everyone to the next round but I couldn’t get the job done. I did everything I could. I did the best I could.
"Belgium deserved the win, but we also played as well as we possibly could. I just want to thank my team mates."
Honda, who scored 37 times in 98 appearances for his country, was used as an impact player off the bench in his third World Cup and had a couple of chances to grab a winner for Japan before the dramatic denouement.
"We had talked about the score being even if and when I entered the game, but I couldn't come through," said Honda.
"I've always said if you're in this competition you should be in to win it, and I hope the younger generation of players carry on that spirit."
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Hugh Lawson)