BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) — Japan can so win a World Cup game outside its borders.
Coming off four straight exhibition losses in the buildup to the tournament, the Japanese earned their first World Cup victory on foreign soil Monday when Keisuke Honda scored in the first half for a 1-0 victory over uninspired Cameroon in Group E of the World Cup.
“As a team we had very little good luck in our warmup games going into this match,” Honda said. “But as a team we were thinking: ‘Don’t be down. Be positive. Go for it.’”
And they did against a favored Cameroon squad that was lifeless in the first half.
After a sloppy first 30 minutes, Japan broke the tie in the 39th when Daisuke Matsui’s curling cross from the right drifted over the heads of Cameroon defenders Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia. The ball fell to Honda at the back post and the striker neatly controlled it and sent it past goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou.
“I found a good position and the ball was very good,” Honda said. “I just told myself to be calm to make it because recently we have missed good chances. So I wanted to make it absolute today.”
Despite an attack led by Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon never really challenged Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima. The Africans struggled to possess the ball and generate any rhythm up front, and even when they put a few passes together, the buildup usually was wasted by poor crosses.
“We were too nervous in the first half,” Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen said. “We lost many, many balls because we were nervous and that is why I am disappointed tonight. They were not playing to their best of their ability and we were not able to release our potential this evening, and that is really disappointing.”
Japan is tied with the Netherlands atop the group. Its only previous victories in a World Cup came against Russia and Tunisia in 2002, when it was co-host of the tournament. This is its fourth World Cup.
Cameroon’s first shot on goal came in the 37th minute, when Eric Choupo-Moting dropped the ball at the top of the box for Eyong Enoh. But Kawashima easily handled the midfielder’s low drive.
Japan’s stiff defense frustrated Cameroon and kept Eto’o in check. Cameroon looked lost in the midfield, and clearly missed the creativity of Alex Song, who Le Guen kept on the bench.
Eto’o tried to played a more active role in the second half. Just after the break, the Inter Milan striker deftly skipped through three defenders near the touch line before drawing the ball back for Choupo-Moting. But Coupo-Moting’s right-footed shot drifted past the left post.
Defender Stephane Mbia nearly tied it for Cameroon in the 87th minute, but his long drive hit the left post.
“When the game was over I felt great relief,” keeper Kawashima said. “Cameroon has powerful players and we managed to hold them off. In the last 20 minutes I knew I would be under tremendous pressure. Something was going to happen.”
It did: Japan’s first road win in a World Cup.
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