Japan became the second team from Asia to reach the Round of 16 in South Africa with a convincing 3-1 victory over Denmark and, in the process, delivered arguably their best performance at the finals to date as they achieved their biggest goals' tally in a FIFA World Cup™ match.
Having scored the winner against Cameroon in Japan's first group outing, Keisuke Honda opened the scoring with a spectacular 30-metre free-kick early in the first half before later setting up Shinji Okazaki's clinching third goal in the closing minutes. But the CSKA Moscow midfielder played down his role in the famous win in Rustenburg. "My role is to create scoring chances and help the team win games," said the Budweiser Man of the Match. "I was able to achieve that goal and that is what matters. The coach [Takeshi Okada] told us before the match that we should not only concentrate on defending but also on attack, and that's what we did."
With Korea DPR and Australia already eliminated from the group stage, Korea Republic would have been the sole remaining representatives from the AFC if Japan had failed to progress. But as it turned out, Okada's team managed to emulate their success eight years ago, when they reached the second round along with their co-hosts at Korea/Japan 2002. In doing so they became the first side from the Asian continent to hit three goals in a FIFA World Cup game since 1966.
"I'm very excited that our team have made it through and I also feel happy for [South] Korea as we're all in the second round. Now that we've done it, I hope both Japan and Korea will make it to the quarter-finals. But first I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped all the Asian teams would progress to the next round," Yasuhito Endo told FIFA, after scoring Japan's second goal from another superbly struck free-kick. "The free-kick goals were down to the practice we'd put in – we've trained on them for a while, even before we came here for the World Cup."
After the individual brilliance of Honda and Endo that gave Japan a 2-0 lead before the break, the unselfish Honda turned provider as his clever footwork helped Okazaki to seal the victory with three minutes remaining. "I'd like to thank Honda for setting up my goal. We played as a team tonight, and the good result is down to the fact that we fought all together to achieve what we needed to get," said Okazaki. "I was also happy to see Korea Republic reach the last 16, and definitely that motivated us to join them as representatives from our continent."