Japan got the better of Cameroon in what turned out to be a disappointing game with very few chances that finished 1-0. Much had been expected of this Cameroon side led by superstar striker Samuel Eto’o, but they were sluggish and uninspiring throughout and showed little fight after going a goal down.
The first chance of the game didn’t come until the 37th minute, when Eyong Enoh hit a relatively weak shot from distance that was easily saved by Eiji Kawashima in the Japan goal. The effort marked the start of a slightly less dull two minute period in the game, as Japan’s goal came only a minute later.
Midfielder Daisuke Matsui found himself out on the right wing with time and space to cut onto his left foot and loft a high cross over the entire Cameroon defence, finding Keisuke Honda all alone at the far post. Honda brought the ball down well before coolly clipping his shot over the helpless Souleymanou Hamidou in the Cameroon goal.
Conceding a goal just before the break is always frustrating, but if the Cameroon fans were hoping an inspired half-time team-talk or tactical switch would be forthcoming, they were to be sorely disappointed.
Cameroon continued in disappointing fashion and their star player was played out of the game by his own manager’s formation. Eto’o played on the right wing throughout and was marked by two or three players on most occasions he had the ball, while he was offered little support by teammates. He was only able to show his potential brilliance on one occasion, when he managed to beat three men and cut back to Eric Choupo-Moting, whose curling sidefoot attempt flew narrowly past the far post.
Despite the isolation of Eto’o and his inability to make an impact out wide, he played the entire game on the right rather than at centre forward, and manager Paul le Guen must face criticism for the tactics which led to Cameroon’s first ever opening game defeat at a World Cup finals.
Japan’s best chance of the second half came soon after Choupo-Mouting’s effort, as Haminou spilled a shot out to his near post, where it was met by substitute Shinji Okazaki who crashed a fierce drive against the outside of the post. Japan didn’t show much attacking impetus in the second half, but they didn’t really need to as Cameroon rarely threatened an equaliser.
This was an entirely winnable game against a distinctly average Japan side, but Cameroon looked disinterested for large periods and rarely looked like getting back into the game until the final stages.
They did have a couple of chances in the last five minutes; the first saw the impressive Stephane M’Bia crash a thirty yard rocket against the Japanese bar, while the other came when Geremi crossed for Pierre Webo to sidefoot weakly into Kawashima’s arms from inside the six-yard box.
This closing spell showcased the quality that Cameroon do possess, making it all the more baffling and frustrating that they had been so awful for the 85 minutes which preceded their flurry of activity. Cameroon now face a huge task to qualify, and they are unlikely to take any points unless they manage to muster a serious improvement on this performance.
Japan will be delighted with this unexpected victory, knowing that if they take something from their final game against Denmark than they could well qualify alongside Holland.
Man of the Match: Tulio Tanaka. The Brazil-born defender was a rock throughout the game. He hails from Japanese, Italian and Brazilian ancestry, and showed a little of all three as he showed technical quality, intelligent positioning and aerial prowess to help Japan secure their clean sheet and victory.
Moment of the Match: Honda’s goal. In a game short on highlights, Honda’s touch and finish was a rare bright point that gave Japan their victory.
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