Honda leads Japan past Cameroon
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – 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. 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.”
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.
Netherlands 2, Denmark 0
JOHANNESBURG – The Netherlands scored on an own goal and beat Denmark 2-0 at the World Cup on Monday even though its dangerous attack was stymied for much of the game.
The Dutch took the lead in the 46th minute when Denmark defender Simon Poulsen headed a ball off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and into the net. Poulsen was trying to clear a cross from Robin van Persie.
Dirk Kuyt doubled the lead in the 85th when he tapped in a rebound off the post from close range.
Denmark had frustrated the Dutch until the own goal with a compact midfield, and the Netherlands never came close to the free-flowing, high-scoring type of play their fans have become accustomed to, despite several other chances.
So the Netherlands had to rely on a bit of luck, as Van Persie beat an onrushing Thomas Sorensen to a long through ball down the left side early in the second half before squaring up to send a cross into the penalty area. Poulsen had plenty of time and space to clear the ball, but his off-balance header bounced off Agger’s back and into the net.
Italy 1, Paraguay 1
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Italy fell behind, then lost its star goalkeeper for the second half. So a 1-1 World Cup draw with Paraguay should not have been all that disturbing for the defending champions.
Yet the Azzurri’s underwhelming, rain-soaked draw hardly was pleasing to coach Marcello Lippi, the same man who guided the Italians to their fourth championship in 2006.
“We need to do more and do it better. Our opponent didn’t do anything, they just kept things in check,” Lippi said.
The South Americans did enough for a tie. Defender Antolin Alcaraz scored on a header in the 39th minute of the Group F match.
“I can’t describe what I feel. Playing a World Cup is something very special,” Alcaraz said.
Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi equalized from close range in the 63rd after a miscue by goalkeeper Justo Villar.
Already without injured midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s fortunes took another hit when it lost perhaps its most valuable player, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, after the first half. The 32-year-old Buffon was removed due to a back injury, replaced by inexperienced backup Federico Marchetti.
“He had a back problem. I hope he returns for the next game, but that will be up to the doctors,” Lippi said.
Buffon said not to worry, he will be ready. He said the problem was with his sciatic nerve and that he “hopes to recover in two days.”
De Rossi made up for the opening goal, sliding in to redirect a corner kick from Simone Pepe. It was a solid start for the midfielder who was suspended for four games during Italy’s victorious 2006 run after bloodying the face of U.S. forward Brian McBride with a sharp elbow.
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