Japanese media on Tuesday hailed the national football side's historic first FIFA World Cup™ finals victory on foreign soil after their 1-0 win over Cameroon.
"Japan Won!!" screamed the headline in Sports Nippon, betraying the overall sense of surprise greeting the opening win for a side that has struggled badly for goals in the run-up to the tournament.
Most newspapers went with front page images of goal-scoring hero Keisuke Honda, whose 39th-minute goal broke the deadlock in Bloemfontein, and heaped praise on Japan's defence for holding on to the lead. "Honda's opening gambit awarded with firm defence," said the Yomiuri Shimbun. "The new ace proves himself in the first game," the Asahi Shimbun said, referring to the rivalry between CKSA Moscow forward Honda and Shunsuke Nakamura over the striker position in the national team in the past year.
Japan managed just one goal in four friendlies leading up to the tournament, along with two own-goals in a warm up against England.
In a scrappy first half against a Cameroon side boasting star striker Samuel Eto'o, neither side looked capable of breaking the deadlock until Daisuke Matsui manoeuvred the ball onto his left foot and delivered an inswinging cross from the right. The ball somehow eluded several Cameroon defenders and the unmarked Honda stabbed it past the despairing dive of Hamidou Souleymanou to give Japan the lead. Honda, who turned 24 on Sunday, scooped the man-of-the-match.
The media also praised under-pressure coach Takeshi Okada, who took Japan to its first FIFA World Cup 12 years ago in France, where they lost all three first-round matches. "Instead of trying to surprise the world, [Okada] concentrated on persistent defence to beat Cameroon," said the Mainichi Shimbun.