RUSTENBURG - Team spirit
and a growing belief in their own exceptional talents have not
only taken Japan into the last 16, but also rekindled a
pre-finals dream of reaching the semi-finals.
Japan clinched their place in the second round for the first
time on foreign soil by beating Denmark 3-1 in stylish fashion
on Thursday, producing a brand of fast, slick and technical
attacking football that delighted their fans and neutrals.
Japan now face Paraguay in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Afterwards, pleased but not satisfied, they made it clear
they believe that will not be the end of their South African
adventure and they can go much closer to realising coach Takeshi
Okada's audacious pre-tournament challenge.
"I did talk of that aim (semi-finals) before we came to the
tournament, but it was mostly a target I set to motivate our
team," he said. "It has mostly served its purpose now. It was
vital for everyone to train with the highest possible motivation
and we have done that."
Okada's bold talk of the last four was forgotten as the
Japanese struggled through a pre-tournament run of poor results.
But it was revived impressively by three fine goals against
the Danes, two from brilliant free-kicks by Keisuke Honda and
Yasuhito Endo in the first half-hour, and a late Shinji Okazaki
At times, the "Samurai Blue" played with a flair associated
with Brazil at the Royal Bafokeng stadium as they seized a
victory that secured second place in their final Group E contest
and left the Danes chasing shadows.
The result delighted and satisfied Okada, 53, who took over
for his second spell as coach in December 2007, when Ivica Osim
suffered a stroke.
A LOT OF RUNNING
"We were not passive, we were offensive and the team worked
very hard," he said. "The opening win gave us confidence and the
players ran and ran very much - we knew the finals would be
played in winter so we have prepared for a lot of running."
Japan's attacking flourish was built on flooding midfield
with a flexible 4-5-1 formation and then counter-attacking at
"Against their power, I knew we had to prepare a few plans,
but it was most important not to lose the ball and we stuck well
to our fundamental plans," said Okada.
"They had tall players, but we worked hard to stop them
having a big superiority in the aerial play. Even in the loud
noise, they made good decisions. Now we will focus on, and
prepare for, Paraguay."
Honda, whose wand-like left foot bedazzled the Danes as he
scored one goal and set up another, confirmed Japan have serious
"For us, this was a big win. I am glad we won, but I am not
satisfied," he said. "For me, for the team, the next game is
more important because we want to show the Japanese people that
nothing is impossible."
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