Philippe Troussier formally stepped down as Japan coach on Wednesday and declared his mission accomplished after taking the co-hosts to the last 16 of the World Cup.
The Frenchman said Japan deserved credit for reaching the second round, despite bowing out of the tournament after a hugely disappointing 1-0 defeat to Turkey on Tuesday.
But he warned that the next four years could be even more difficult for Japan, who recreated history for themselves by finishing top of group H with seven points after losing all three matches in their World Cup debut in 1998.
"Japanese football has taken a giant step forward and by reaching the knockout stage this side has created a legacy for the future," said Troussier.
"But the road ahead will get even tougher and Japan have a lot of work to do if they want to repeat this achievement in four years time."
Troussier, who wants to take six months off before evaluating his future, insisted that Japan were capable of building on their results at the World Cup at the 2006 finals in Germany.
"Maybe you could say Japan hit the wall against Turkey. We felt we had reached our limit. But Japan can close the gap with the top European teams with a little more experience of big international matches," he said.
Troussier bristled at suggestions that he had got his tactics wrong in Miyagi on Tuesday, when he unexpectedly dropped strikers Atsushi Yanagisawa and Takayuki Suzuki and took the puzzling decision to take off Brazilian-born midfielder Alex at halftime.
ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
"I was hoping for the element of surprise and Alex definitely caused Turkey problems. If we hadn't gone behind early then there could have been no complaints about the team selection," he said.
The 47-year-old also refused to accept that Japan could have taken the same risks co-hosts South Korea took later on Tuesday when they came back to beat Italy 2-1 in extra time after Umit Davala had given Turkey a 12th minute lead.
"Korea play a more direct style. It's in their nature. One or two small details here and there can change the flow of a game and Korea had their share of luck," said Troussier.
"If we'd had the same luck perhaps we could've gone on to win in extra time too. I didn't feel Turkey were better than Japan but we just came up a bit short. The players have nothing to be ashamed of."
Japan drew 2-2 with Belgium in their opening match before beating Russia 1-0 and Tunisia 2-0 to clinch top spot in group H.
Troussier, who has had his run-ins with the Japanese press since taking over in September 1998, could not resist a final dig at journalists on Wednesday.
"I have always read your articles with great interest. All I can say is that they have given me extra energy to do my job. All adventures come to an end but for Japan maybe it has just started," he said.
After winning second Asian Cup triumph in Lebanon in 2000 and reaching the final of the Confederations Cup last summer, Japan fully deserved their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, insisted Troussier.
"The players should be proud of what they have done in the World Cup. They have every right to feel they are among the top 20 teams in the world," he said.