It had looked like Japan would be forced to wait again, denied the chance to be the first to secure passage to Brazil 2014 for the second FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in succession. However, with second-half stoppage time under way and trailing Australia by a single goal, Japan were given the chance to book their ticket to the finals with a last-minute penalty.
Up stepped their Mr Reliable, Keisuke Honda, to try to earn the 1-1 draw they needed. The CSKA Moscow attacking midfielder had already struck four times in Asia’s final qualification stage, and he made no mistake in front a rapturous home crowd in Saitama to secure qualification.
After the game, FIFA.com exclusively caught up with Honda to discuss that crucial moment that secured their place at the FIFA World Cup, the team's progression since South Africa 2010 and the upcoming trip to Brazil for the FIFA Confederations Cup.
FIFA.com: How do you look back on tonight’s match?
We dominated the match but could not score the first goal when we had chances. Australia were trying to score the goal from their counter-attacks - we had difficulties with them a few times - but both teams had good chances in this match. We conceded Australia’s first goal in that way, and the game became more difficult, but we did not give up till the end and we finally got this result.
FIFA.com: You took the huge responsibility of taking the penalty kick to secure a point, which meant to booked the first seat at Brazil 2014. Did you feel the pressure?
Yes, yes. I felt the pressure but I took the penalty full of confidence, and I made it.
FIFA.com: After you scored that penalty kick, you prayed for something?
Well, I had some personal emotion then… But apart from my personal feeling, that goal took Japan to the World Cup, and I’m satisfied with that.
FIFA.com: Compared with three years ago, what’ the difference between Japan at South Africa 2010 and current Samurai Blue?
Now that so many Japanese players are playing in European leagues, some of them are playing for big clubs. Those players have shown what they have learned through European league experiences on the pitch for the national team. That's been shown in our latest results.
FIFA.com: Japan will play in FIFA Confederations Cup this month, do you see this as good preparation for Brazil 2014?
For us, giant-killing, that’s it. Everybody expects us to be the weakest in the group, but we’re going to surprise them all.