Tokyo (AFP) - Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni announced his resignation on Wednesday and said he took "full responsibility" for the Asian champions' winless exit from the World Cup.
Zaccheroni, 61, brought a squad full of optimism to Brazil but the Blue Samurai suffered a brutal reality check culminating in Tuesday's 4-1 rout by Colombia.
"I am disappointed and not satisfied with the results," the Italian told a press conference at the team's base camp in Itu, Brazil, according to Kyodo news agency.
"I really wanted to take us forward and qualify for the second round and I am so disappointed. But I picked the team, decided on the tactics and how we play and I want to take full responsibility."
Zaccheroni becomes the third coach to quit in recent days after Italy's Cesare Prandelli and Sabri Lamouchi of Ivory Coast both fell on their swords after World Cup failures.
Zaccheroni's contract was due to expire after the tournament but his resignation leaves Japan needing to bed in a new coach quickly before their Asian Cup defence in January.
But after taking the lead against Ivory Coast, they lost the opener 2-1 and then drew 0-0 against Greece. Tuesday's big defeat to Colombia left them rock-bottom in Group C.
- 'Physical strength lacking' -
Zaccheroni said Japan were headed in the right direction but were still hampered by their traditional problem at the top level -- a lack of physical presence.
"I told the players and staff that I was happy and proud to be their coach. Over the last four years I have put my heart and soul into helping this team grow," Zaccheroni said.
"I think the culture of Japanese soccer and the special characteristics and technique of the players can cut it on the world stage but physical strength is what is lacking."
"I have tried to create a team with speed and intensity and don't think the direction I tried to take the team was the wrong one. I think the team should continue on the same path it has been on for the last four years."
However, team captain Makoto Hasebe attempted to deflect blame away from Zaccheroni, saying that it was the players themselves who had to accept responsibility for Japan's defeat.
"The coach, and not just today, has never pointed the finger at the players when results have not gone our way and always told us it is his fault," Hasebe was quoted by Kyodo as saying.
"We have had really top-level preparation, but we didn't get results and I think that is down to the players. The players have to feel a strong sense of responsibility," he said.
Zaccheroni was a successful club coach and led AC Milan to the 1999 Serie A title, before taking up his first national post with Japan in 2010.
Such is his affection for the country that he once declared he was "in love with Japan" and considered himself "half-Japanese".
His tenure got off to a brilliant start when Japan beat Lionel Messi's Argentina 1-0 at a home friendly in his first match in charge.
But the Italian faced criticism last year when, in a foreshadowing of their World Cup, Japan lost all three group matches at the Confederations Cup in Brazil.