Japan have never won a World Cup match outside of Japan before, but today they brought the Indomitable Lions crashing down with a great display of defensive play and some nimble footwork, 1-0.
But first and foremost it was a poor performance from Cameroon, and the coach Paul Le Guen has much to answer for in that regard. Samuel Eto’o, one of the best players Africa has ever had, was relegated to the right midfielder position. He was lost out there, barely seeing the ball and unable to affect the game in the way he knows best. Why wasn’t Eto’o played up front? Only Le Guen knows the answer to that question and there are probably a few million people that are very eager to hear his explanation. Eto’o’s disappointment at not being played in his normal position was clear as he sulked around the field.
Throughout the match, the Cameroonian midfield lacked creativity, vision and direction. Again, Le Guen’s decision not to play Alexandre Song, who had a phenomenal season with Arsenal, came back to bite Cameroon this evening.
Photo: Cameroon’s head coach Paul Le Guen of France stands near Samuel Eto’o during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against Japan at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
The Cameroonian side is also at least a head taller than the Japanese team, to a man, but won precious few of the aerial balls. Where is the energy, the fire, the motivation in their game tonight? Perhaps the persistent rumours of dissatisfaction in the Cameroonian camp were not so far fetched.
And yet, full honours to Japan for fighting hard for this one, and being the more determined and disciplined side. By defeating Cameroon, they put themselves in a great position to advance to the next round. Here are this reporter’s notes:
Japan: Eiji Kawashima, Yuki Abe, Yuichi Komano, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Yuto Nagatomo, Yasuhito Endo, Daisuke Matsui, Yoshito Okubo, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Yuji Nakazawa.
Cameroon: Souleymanou Hamidou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Nicolas N’Koulou, Sebastien Bassong, Samuel Eto’o, Jean Makoun, Eric Choupo-Moting, Pierre Achille Webo, Eyong Enoh, Stephane Mbia, Joel Matip.
Man of the match
- 2nd minute: Endo nudges Mbia in the face with an elbow. Mbia goes down, clutching his nose but there doesn’t seem to be blood.
- 7th minute: First chance for Cameroon fluffed after Achille Webo cuts the ball back, and behind, for Eric Choupo-Moting.
- 9th minute: The Japanese goalkeeper mis-times a free kick quite horribly, flapping desperately as it flies past, but Hasebe clears it.
The Cameroonians are taller and stronger than the Japanese, so we can expect quite a few crosses, corners and free kicks as the Africans seek to use that advantage.
- 16th minute: Not much happening here. Matsui tries to cross the ball, but fires it straight at the Cameroonian keeper.
- 20th minute: a panicky moment for Cameroon as Okubo collides with the Cameroonian keeper, who fumbles the ball and chases after it. Honda doesn’t reach it in time, and Souleymanou saves it. Okubo was offside in any case. Souleymanou and Okubo collide, and the Japanese player is stretchered off. No movement from the Japanese bench, so at least they reckon it isn’t serious.
Japan is repeatedly being caught by the Cameroonian offside trap.
- 30th minute: Japanese keeper Kawashima jumps quite high to try to save a free kick from Assou-Ekotto, and lands heavily on his back. Play resumes a few minutes later after Kawashima is attended to. Kawashima really seems to struggle with judging high balls.
Neither team’s defence has been impressive. A lack of organisation and communication seems to be the general problem.
- 37th minute: First Cameroonian shot at goal from Eyong, but the Japanese goalkeeper has no problems with it.
- 39th minute: Japan scores! The holes in Cameroon’s defence are exposed as an unmarked Honda slots a goal past Hamidou from a Matsui cross.
Photo: Japan’s Keisuke Honda (2nd L) scores against Cameroon during the 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Absolutely pathetic defending from Cameroon. Honda was unmarked, and Eto’o was a disinterested spectator, standing behind the Japanese attackers. Shocking behaviour from a team captain.
Assou-Ekotto’s jocks are showing, and there’s a label hanging out of his pants. Surely there’s a rule against that somewhere? There ought to be.
End of the first half. Well, there hasn’t been much action, has there? At least we have a goal.
- 47th minute: Free kick on the very edge of the box for Japan after Webo muscles Okubo off the ball. Okubo was fouled inside the penalty area, but the referee gives a free kick just outside the penalty box.
- 48th minute: Eto’o finally shows a glimmer of his skill when he beats four defenders to set Choupo-Moting for a shot. Choupo-Moting sends it wide. A small reminder of what Eto’o is capable of.
- 53rd minute: Webo headers a cross wide. Cameroon are more precise and more physical in their approach, compared to the first half.
Photo: Japan’s Keisuke Honda fights for the ball with Cameroon’s Achille Webo (R) during a 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
- 56th minute: Choupo-Moting does well to cut inside and beat a Japanese defender, but sends his shot wide.
Whatever Paul Le Guen said to the Cameroonian team at half time, it worked. Almost. They’re more urgent in attack, but that has not yet translated into goals.
- 61st minute: Free kick for Cameroon in a promising position, but Nakazawa flicks it to safety for a corner.
- 62nd minute: Tulio writhes around on the ground, as footballers do, after taking a knock.
- 63rd minute: Emana replaces Matip.
Cameroon is committing up to six players in attack, leaving only four in defence. It’s quite a risky move, but Cameroon need to throw all they have into attack.
- 68th minute: Matsui, the creator of Honda’s goal, makes way for Okazaki.
- 69th minute: N’Koulou gets a yellow card for fouling Okazaki.
- 71st minute: Japanese free kick in a great area, but Endo sends it over the penalty box for a goal kick.
Japan are digging in, defending deep and hoping hold their precarious lead. They’ve never won a World Cup match outside Japanese soil, so this will be a first.
- 74th minute: Geremi comes on for Makoun and Idrissou changes Choupo-Moting.
- 78th minute: Idrissou wastes a good counter-attacking opportunity by pushing it too far forward, allowing a Japanese defender to boot it to safety.
- 79th minute: Cameroon gets a free kick in a good area, but Kawashima clears it.
- 80th minute: Okubo comes off, and Yano comes on for the final 10 minutes.
- 82nd minute: Hasebe forces a spill from the Cameroonian coach, and Okazaki fires in from the rebound, rattling the post. It wouldn’t have counted; he was offside.
- 85th minute: Mbia fires in a missile of a shot, which hits the upright bar. Emana fires in from the rebound, but the ball takes a deflection and Kawashima saves it easily.
- 86th minute: Honda fires in a pedestrian shot, and Souleymanou fumbles it.
- 87th minute: Hasebe goes off, and Junichi Inamoto, Japan’s most famous player, comes on.
- 91st minute: yellow card for Abe. Assou-Ekotto’s free kick is caught by Kawashima.
- 92nd minute: Webo’s flick into goal is saved by Kawashima. You get the feeling that that was that for Cameroon.
Photo: Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o (L) and Enoh Eyong (R) leave the field after their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against Japan at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Final whistle, and Japan have won their first World Cup match on foreign soil.
By Sipho Hlongwane
Main photo: Japan’s Keisuke Honda celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal against Cameroon during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jorge Silva