Honda strike sees Japanese expectations shift up a gear
Published 15/06/2010 | 05:00
There have not been many surprises at this World Cup, but this probably counted as the biggest shock so far.
Japan came to South Africa in such a state of chaos that shortly before setting out for Bloemfontein, midfielder Keisuke Honda asked Japanese journalists if they really thought they would lose all their group games. He was met by an embarrassed silence.
After losing four of their five warm-up friendlies, Japan could claim to be, in terms of form, the worst side at this World Cup.
The celebrations when the final whistle went in Free State Stadium were spontaneous and genuine.
Japan manager Takeshi Okada's prediction that he would lead his side to the semi-finals might still seem ridiculous, but at least he has surpassed his three successive defeats in the 1998 World Cup.
By doing so has confounded his critics and left Africa reassessing their favourites for glory. With Ivory Coast, Cameroon were probably the pick of the continent's teams, but yesterday their prospects took a huge knock.
Six minutes before half-time, Honda managed to escape his marker, Stephane Mbia, control Daisuke Matsui's cross and slot the ball past Hamidou Souleymanou.
Aside from a drive from Shinji Okazaki that struck the outside of the post but was ruled offside, it was the only time Japan threatened.
Paul le Guen would have been bitterly disappointed with his side's response. Samuel Eto'o had been irritated by criticism from Roger Milla, the man who had driven Cameroon to the quarter-finals in 1990, that he seldom reproduced his club form for his country. If this was his opportunity to shut Milla up, he failed to take it.
Five minutes from time, a blistering drive from Achille Emana slammed against Eiji Kawashima's crossbar and in the final minute of stoppage-time, the Japan keeper reacted brilliantly as Webo met a low cross. That secured his side's first World Cup victory outside their own country.
Japan -- Kawashima; Komano, Nakazawa, Tanaka, Nagatomo; Matsui (Okazaki, 69), Honda, Abe, Hasebe (Inamoto, 88th), Endo; Okubo (Yano, 82).
Cameroon -- Hamidou; Mbia, Nkoulou, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Matip (Achille Emana, 63), Makoun (Geremi, 75), Enoh; Eto'o, Webo, Choupo-Moting (Idrissou, 75).
Ref -- O Benquerenga (Portugal).