Tuesday 15 June 2010

World Cup Special 2 - Japan vs. Cameroon report

After all the trials and tribulations of the past few months, Japan’s World Cup campaign in South Africa got off to the perfect start yesterday at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein as Keisuke Honda’s first half strike sealed a 1-0 victory over Group E rivals Cameroon.

Playing as a centre-forward for the first time ever in a competitive match, Honda coolly slotted past goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou at the far post on 38 minutes after Daisuke Matsui’s deep cross from the right-hand flank had evaded the leaps of Cameroon defenders Nicolas N’Koulou and Stephane Mbia.

The pre-match rumours over Takeshi Okada’s latest tactical evolutions had proved correct when Honda was named at the head of an attacking trio alongside Yoshito Okubo and the recalled Matsui, with Shunsuke Nakamura paying for his loss of form with a place on the bench despite recovering from an ankle injury. The only other change from the recent series of friendlies was a place for Yuichi Komano at right back; preferred to Atsuto Uchida after Yasuyuki Konno’s knee problem was deemed not worth risking.

Without a single recognised striker on the pitch, Japan began the game in cautious fashion as Honda frequently dropped back into midfield, while Yuki Abe’s presence ahead of the back four helped break up the few attacks that a surprisingly lacklustre Cameroon forward line could muster. After a dour opening quarter that unfortunately reflected much of the football on show in South Africa thus far, Okada’s side began to grow in confidence as they controlled more of the possession, before Honda’s goal provided a crucial advantage to take into half time.

Samuel Eto’o had looked frustrated on the right of a forward three for much of the opening period, but his intervention created the first good chance for the Indomitable Lions three minutes after the interval as the Inter Milan star beat three Japan defenders, only for Maxim Choupo-Moting to fire over the crossbar. Shinji Okazaki was introduced in a straight swap for Okubo on the left flank to add extra energy to the Japan attack, and came closest to doubling the lead with ten minutes remaining when hitting the post after Makoto Hasebe’s initial effort had been parried by Souleymanou.

Despite little else to excite the neutrals up to this point, Cameroon finally discovered some attacking rhythm in the closing moments as Japan began to invite more pressure in a manner eerily similar to their opening World Cup game against Australia in 2006. Then, three late goals had given the Socceroos a dramatic 3-1 victory, but Japan were spared a repeat this time as Mbia’s 30-yard effort crashed off the crossbar with five minutes remaining, before Eiji Kawashima saved brilliantly from substitute Mohammadou Idrissou in stoppage time.

The win was a triumph for Japan boss Okada, who has been under enormous pressure this year from a domestic media unhappy with both results and the recent switch in formation. On this occasion, the surprise deployment of Honda as a forward in the new 4-1-2-2-1 system paid dividends, but the manager was quick to pass credit to his players, saying that they had ‘worked together as a team to clinch a good victory’.


Japan will now move on to the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban for Saturday’s meeting against group favourites Holland, who kicked off with a 2-0 victory over Denmark at Soccer City yesterday thanks to a Daniel Agger own goal and a late second from Dirk Kuijt.

World Cup results
Group E
Holland 2-0 Denmark
Japan 1-0 Cameroon

Group F
Italy 1-1 Paraguay

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