Japan star Keisuke Honda has backed his side to make an even bigger impression on this FIFA World Cup™ after a landmark victory over Denmark sent the Blue Samurai into the last 16 for the first time on foreign soil.
Honda picked up the Budweiser Man of the Match award after scoring a stunning first-half free-kick and then brilliantly creating his side's final goal for substitute Shinji Okazaki in a convincing 3-1 win. Yasuhito Endo was also on target with a superb free-kick. The Danes' goal came from skipper Jon Dahl Tomasson at a stage when their hopes of the win they needed to qualify had all but disappeared.
"I know this is a really big win for Japan," Honda said after helping his side line up a Round of 16 meeting with Paraguay in Pretoria on Tuesday. "I expected to be really jubilant but I'm not as jubilant as I thought I would be because I don't think we are finished here. I believe we can go further in this competition."
Victory over Paraguay would make this Japan's most successful FIFA World Cup, surpassing the achievement of the 2002 squad that reached the second round on home soil. Honda insisted that confidence was growing in the squad. "The team as a whole is becoming a team that can continue in the tournament," he said.
I believe we can go further in this competition.
The CSKA Moscow star also hailed the victory as a vindication of coach Takeshi Okada's decision to adopt an attacking approach to a match in which Japan only needed a draw. "It all comes from the instruction we were given by our coach," he said. "He told us that we should not concentrate only on defence. We had to attack, otherwise we would never be able to win. That was a really effective tactic and it led us to this wonderful result."
Okada confirmed: "We knew we could have made it with a draw but we did not want to be passive. Denmark put us under some pressure at the start and we had some risky situations, so we changed the formation and we were able to score the two free-kicks that put us in the driving seat. They came back strongly after half-time but we showed that our team has strength that not all others have - we are truly united.
"We will enjoy this but we have not achieved our final end," added Okada, who had set his players a pre-tournament target of reaching at least the semi-finals. "We have to go for more, starting with what will be a first game in the knockout stages, against Paraguay. The players will have a break tonight and tomorrow we start working again."
Denmark coach Morten Olsen said his side had paid for their failure to take their chances they created throughout the match, but particulary in the opening quarter of an hour.
"Of course sometimes you miss opportunites but that is what makes the difference at this level. They took their chances, we didn't take ours and it became an uphill struggle for us. The way the whole match evolved was decided by the two free-kicks in the first half. I don't think we played a bad match.
"Have we failed? I will leave that for others to decide."