By Milos Kosic
Many months ago, when Japanese head-coach Takeshi Okada said that his team’s goal was to reach the semi-finals, not many people took him seriously. His words seemed like an unrealistic hope of a man living in illusion. Before South Africa, Japan had never won a World Cup game on foreign soil, and the only time they managed to progress into the knockout stage was in 2002, as a host country. At the beginning of the 2010 World Cup, they were considered outsiders in the group that included Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark. They lost four out of their last five friendly games. Everything pointed toward an early elimination.
Photo from fOTOGLIF
A 1-0 win in their opening game against Cameroon was just a prelude for what was to come. Last Thursday, in a spectacular match, the Blue Samurais totally outplayed tall and strong Denmark, beating them 3-1, and progressing into the second round. Players like Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo showed why the team should not be underestimated. With two amazing free-kicks, they sent Denmark out of South Africa.
The basis of Japan is their strong defense. The Blue Samurais are lacking a real striking force, and they rely mostly on midfielders to score. They like to frustrate their opponents with constant running and pressure.
On Tuesday, Japan will take on Paraguay. When considered that both teams play defensively, the game might turn out to be relatively uninteresting. Although Paraguay is the favorite in the match, Japan should not be written off. The Blue Samurais have showed that they enjoy messing up other teams’ plans. Will they be able to surprise Paraguay? We will see on Tuesday.