Japan have won their opening Group E match of the FIFA 2010 World Cup by defeating a lacklustre Cameroon side 1-0.
In an uninspiring first half, Japan striker Honda delighted Japanese fans on 38 minutes when he found himself unmarked at the far post from a Daisuke Matsui cross. The player composed himself before poking the ball home to rapturous applause.
Cameroon had made a strange decision to play world-class centre forward Samuel Eto’o wide on the right instead of in his best position leading the line. As a result, he was unable to make a goal-scoring impact on the game.
There were only two shots on target in the opening period of the match, which Cameroon perhaps edged in terms of attacking endeavour, but it was an extremely dull and cagey opening.
Japan’s goal was perhaps undeserved but, it was hoped, it might at least inject some badly needed life into this football match.
After the break, however, it wasn’t until the last fifteen minutes when Cameroon began gambling, hunting the equaliser they required, that any side looked in serious danger of adding to the scoreline.
Prior to this, the best chance fell on 46 minutes when Samuel Eto’o beat two men before playing an inch perfect pass which was somehow put over the bar from well inside the area by Eric Choupo-Moting.
In the end, the closest Cameroon came to scoring was when defender Stephane Mbia smashed a 30 yard spank which blasted the crossbar before bouncing clear – surely the best struck longshot of the tournament so far – showing that the Jabulani ball can be hit from range without sailing clear of the goal.
Apart from a last minute save from Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima – indeed, the whistle had already gone for an infringement – Cameroon would not come any closer than that to saving a point today.
Cameroon will rue their lack of flair, as Japan were so negative in the opening exchanges that they will feel today was an opportunity for three points missed.
As it was, discipline and confident defending – Nakazawa won countless headers in his own penalty area – once more won the day here. To say that we, at least, had a hint of excitement with Mbia’s long-range effort would be clutching at straws.
The result, however, means that Japan are in second in Group E on goal difference, after Netherlands defeated Denmark 2-0 earlier today. On tonight’s evidence, Netherlands will have too much for both of these sides, and Japan, with their narrow victory, are surely in the driving seat for second place owing to the lack of any obvious goal threat from both Denmark and Cameroon.
Eiji Kawashima, Komano, Tanaka, Nagatomo, Nakazawa, Abe, Endo, Matsui (Okazaki, 68), Hasebe (Inamoto, 88), Honda Okubo (Kisho Yano, 81)
Hamidou, Assou-Ekotto, N’Koulou, Bassong, Matip (Emana, 63), Makoun (Geremi, 75), Enoh, M’bia Etoundi, Eto’o, Choupo-Moting (Idrissou, 75), Webo