Gutsy Brazilian-born defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who helped Japan reach the World Cup last-16 round, says he has come back from the brink of retirement thanks to advice from his ailing father.
The 29-year-old rejoined his J-League club Nagoya Grampus on Thursday after spending some two weeks in Brazil to see his father Paulo Ryuji, 57, recover from a heart problem he suffered at home during the big tournament.
Tulio learned about his father's condition right after Japan beat Denmark 3-1 to reach the World Cup knockout stage for the first time on foreign soil.
But he stayed on in South Africa until the Blue Samurai finally lost 5-3 on penalties to Paraguay after a goalless 120 minutes on June 29, failing to clinch their first ever World Cup quarter-final spot.
"I wanted to go home as soon as possible but I knew my father would say I should finish what I should do," Tulio told Japanese media. "When I saw my father suffering so much, I thought I would quit football and look after him.
"My father then got better and became able to speak again. He told me, 'You should not leave anything in a half-hearted manner.' It made me feel like working hard all over again."
Tulio, who formed Japan's airtight defence with fellow centre back Yuji Nakazawa, has been a vocal presence on the pitch and has also scored eight goals in 43 matches for Japan since his international debut in 2006.
He scored Japan's only goal in their four straight pre-World Cup friendly defeats by Serbia, South Korea, England and Ivory Coast. Tulio gained instant fame when he clashed with and injured Ivory Coast star striker Didier Drogba.
Tulio's father, a teacher-turned-lawyer and a son of Japanese immigrants in rural Palmeira d'Oeste in Sao Paulo state, was reportedly seen saying on Brazilian television: "Tulio has not only realised my dream but also my family's dream."
Tulio came to Japan aged 16 in 1998 after he was scouted in Brazil to play for a high school near Tokyo.
After making his J-League debut with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2001, Tulio moved to Urawa Red Diamonds in 2004, helping the country's best-supported club win the AFC Champions League title in 2007. He signed with Nagoya in January.
But he was the first Brazilian of Japanese ancestry to stand on the big stage.
"I would quit if I couldn't play football full out. If I was half hearted, it would be insulting to football," Tulio said about his future.
Asked whether he would play in the next 2014 World Cup in his native Brazil, he said: "I'm too occupied with what I should do today. I don't even know what I will do tomorrow."
Source: AFP Global Edition