World Cup: Keisuke Honda helps Japan beat Cameroon, 1-0 [Updated]
The win is Japan's first at the World Cup on foreign soil, and it puts the Japanese at the top of Group E along with the Netherlands, which beat Denmark, 2-0, earlier Monday.
After a sloppy opening 30 minutes at Free State Stadium, Japan went ahead in the 39th minute when Daisuke Matsui's curling cross from the right drifted over Cameroon defenders Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia and fell to Honda at the back post. The striker neatly controlled the ball and slotted it past goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou.
"As a team we had very little good luck in our warm-up games going into this match," Honda said. "But as a team we were thinking: â€˜Don't be down. Be positive. Go for it."
Despite an attack led by Samuel Eto'o, Cameroon never really challenged Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Cameroon struggled to control the ball and generate rhythm up front, and even when it managed to put a few passes together, the buildup was usually wasted by poor passes.
"We were too nervous in the first half. We lost many, many balls because we were nervous and that is why I am disappointed tonight," Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen said. "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."
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 Arsenal midfielder Alex Song, whom Coach Paul Le Guen opted to keep on the bench.
"The biggest problem for us was that we had a good team opposite us," Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun said.
Eto'o tried to played a more active role in the second half. Just after halftime, the Inter Milan striker deftly skipped through three defenders near the sideline before drawing the ball back for Choupo-Moting. But Coupo-Moting's right-footed shot drifted past the left post.
Le Guen brought on two strikers -- Achille Emana and Mohamadou Idrissou -- midway through the second half, but to little effect. Cameroon began to push forward in search of the tying goal only in the closing minutes, and it nearly got it in the 87th minute when defender Stephane Mbia's powerful left-footed drive struck the crossbar.
"When the game was over I felt great relief," Japan goalkeeper 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."
Japan's win comes eight years to the day since its last victory at the World Cup, when it beat Tunisia, 2-0, in Osaka. Japan also beat Russia in the 2002 World Cup.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Japan's Keisuke Honda reacts after scoring Monday. Credit: Yuri Kochetkov / EPA.