/

Okada shifts focus to next match

Blue Samurai look ahead to weekend contest against Dutch after victory over Cameroon

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo News

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — National team coach Takeshi Okada has warned his players not to get carried away after beating Cameroon 1-0 on Monday and insists Japan’s first- ever World Cup triumph outside its own shores will count for nothing if it loses its next two games.

Keisuke Honda was Japan’s driving force, the CSKA Moscow star scoring the winner shortly before halftime as the Blue Samurai tamed the Indomitable Lions at Free State Stadium to join the Netherlands, which beat Denmark 2-0 earlier in the day, on three points in Group E.

Japan faces the Dutch on Saturday in Durban hoping to avenge a 3-0 away defeat in their only previous meeting in Enshcede last September, before wrapping up the group phase against Denmark in Rustenburg on June 24.

“We knew Cameroon would be physically strong and so it proved. But my players had a strong motivation to do well,” said Okada. “In the next game we will be up against the Netherlands so we will have to go one step further.

“This is the first win on foreign soil in the World Cup for our team but this is not an achievement at all. What’s coming next is the point.”

The Africans failed to live up to their potential and Tottenham Hotspur defender Sebastien Bassong felt it was a case of Cameroon losing rather than Japan winning.

“We had loads of chances and we didn’t score. We haven’t played at our level today,” Bassong said.

Okada’s counterpart, Paul Le Guen, said, “I regret that the players were not able to play at the level they could. In the second half they fought but there was a lack of order in their fight.”.

Cameroon, which reached the quarterfinals in its second World Cup appearance in Italy in 1990, faces Denmark in Pretoria on Saturday.

Naturally, Honda was delighted to score a belated birthday goal in Japan’s triumph, and he insisted he was always confident the Blue Samurai would bounce back from a dismal run of results.

Honda, starting in an unfamiliar role as the lone striker, poked home Daisuke Matsui’s cross at the far post six minutes before halftime.

“This goal was a nice birthday present for me. I am so happy now and there is a great atmosphere in the team,” said Honda, who turned 24 on Sunday.

“We were able to stop Cameroon’s attacking players and I think that was why we were able to get a good result,” he told reporters in fluent English.

Japan had not won since beating Bahrain 2-0 in an Asian Cup qualifier in March, and both the team and Okada had come in for stinging criticism in the national media after World Cup warmup defeats to Serbia, South Korea, England and Cote d’Ivoire.

“We had confidence before the game. Of course we played badly in the last four games in the friendly matches, but we didn’t mind about this because they were not so important. We were only concentrating on today,” Honda said.

“We can head into the next game against Holland (on a high).”

Okada praised the Blue Samurai for their team unity and hard work.

“The players showed how much they wanted to win and this is a result of the players pulling together and showing a united front,” Okada said.

“We weren’t able to get forward much in the second half but defended well,” the 53-year-old said.

As expected, Okada named an unchanged side to the one that started in the 0-0 draw against Zimbabwe last week, with Eiji Kawashima getting the nod ahead of Seigo Narazaki in goal and Honda operating as a lone striker at the expense of Shinji Okazaki.

Neither side was able to carve out any clear openings in a cagey first half, although Yuto Nagatomo had to be alert to hack clear Pierre Webo’s ball into the danger zone after nine minutes.

Honda had gone close after being picked out by Matsui’s throw in the 17th minute but the peroxide blond midfielder made no mistake when presented with a second opportunity.

Matsui found space to whip in a cross and Honda was able to get the ball down at the far post and prod it home, sparking delirious scenes on the Japanese bench.

“Honda not only scored but he held the ball up well up front and really saved us,” Okada said.

Cameroon should have got back on level terms four minutes after the interval as captain Samuel Eto’o wriggled through three players to pull the ball back, only for Eric Choupo Moting to screw the ball way off target.

The Indomitable Lions increased the pressure as the game wore on but Okazaki, on for Matsui, hit the post in the 83rd minute after Hamidou Souleymanou had parried Makoto Hasebe’s shot.

Stephane Mbia rattled the bar for Cameroon before Kawashima pulled off a reaction save from Webo in the waning moments, helping the Blue Samurai hold on for the long-awaited victory.

Tulio ecstatic

BLOEMFONTEIN , South Africa (Kyodo) Brazilian-born hard man Marcus Tulio Tanaka showed his softer side Monday, describing as “strawberry-flavored” Japan’s win over Cameroon.

“Today is like strawberries,” Tulio told reporters. “It was a very difficult game and the preparation in this group was very hard for us. We have a big, big first win at this World Cup.

“Today we had very good spirit and scored first. Our plan was to score a second goal but for all the players on the pitch and off the pitch, this win is so positive for us,” the 29-year-old added.

Overlooked for selection to Japan’s 2006 World Cup squad despite going on to win the J. League Player of the Year award that season, Tulio warned his teammates there was no room for complacency and was quick to turn his attention to Saturday’s meeting against the Netherlands.

“This is the first time I have felt so happy in my life but we are thinking about the next game,” he said. “We have a more difficult two games and we will work hard for the second win.”