Keisuke Honda was elevated to national hero Wednesday with banner front pages hailing his last gasp equaliser against Australia that secured Japan's berth to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
The CSKA Moscow midfielder banged home a stoppage time penalty at Saitama Stadium near Tokyo to give the Asian champions the draw they needed to propel them to Brazil as the first team to qualify.
"Japan qualifies for World Cup," screamed the mass-selling Yomiuri Shimbun, in a headline echoed by most newspapers.
"Honda World Cup. Grandpa, I did it," said the Sports Nippon on a wraparound front page that showed the goal-scorer on his knees looking up to the sky. The player's grandfather died last month.
Wednesday morning television devoted a large chunk of broadcast time to the dramatic equaliser off a penalty won after an apparently unwitting handball in the area by Australia's Matt McKay.
The 1-1 result left the Asian champions seven points clear and uncatchable in Group B, putting them through to their fifth straight FIFA World Cup. It was the first time they have sealed qualification on home soil.
More than 15,000 fans watching the game on screens at the National Stadium in Tokyo erupted on the final whistle into chants of "Nippon! Nippon!" while 2,500 supporters at the Nagai stadium in Osaka shouted the scorer's name.
Boisterous celebrations in the city saw around a dozen fans plunging into the Dotombori waterway.
But the joy on Wednesday was tempered by warnings that Japan needed to up their game if they were to match the quality of teams they will meet in Brazil.
"It was a game in which Japan had to face a reality - they cannot beat Australia in 90 minutes at this moment," Brazilian-born football commentator Sergio Echigo told Nikkan Sports.
"Australia are not at their peak. Many of them are in their 30s... and they slowed down in the second half. Top teams in the world are stronger than them."
Echigo warned that Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni may need new blood and new tactics after the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 later this month.
"There was no takeaway from the game other than Japan's qualification for the World Cup," former national youth team coach Ryohei Suzuki told tabloid Nikkan Gendai.
"Since the 1-0 defeat to North Korea, Zaccheroni has become passive in his selection of players, his tactics and everything. I don't understand why he sticks to forming a team that relies so much on Honda," he said.