Japan, who had been written off before the tournament after losing four and drawing one of their warm-up matches, caused a minor upset by defeating Cameroon 1-0.
The win was Japan’s first on foreign soil at the World Cup finals and takes Takeshi Okada’s side level on points with Group E favourites Holland, who defeat Denmark 2-0 earlier in the day.
Although regarded as Africa’s brightest hope in South Africa, Cameroon lacked a cutting edge throughout, this, despite enjoying a great deal of possession throughout the game. Much was expected of skipper Samuel Eto’o but the Inter striker, positioned on the right wing for most of the game, was a largely peripheral presence as Japan defended their led tenaciously.
Although Cameroon improved in the second half they could find no way past a well-drilled Japan back-line.
But both sides gave up possession easily in a sloppy opening period, with most attacks breaking down due to a misplaced pass rather than a well-timed tackle. With neither side prepared to commit too many players forward, the half developed into a stalemate
The game finally started to open up as half-time approached and Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima was forced to make a rare save from Eyong Enoh after good build-up play involving Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Choupo-Moting.
The game’s only goal came moments moments later as CSKA Moscow midfielder Honda, eluded his marker at the far post to control Matsui’s cross, and prodded past Cameroon keeper Souleymanou. It was a goal that neither side particularly deserved.
After the interval, Cameroon, aware that defeat here could prove terminal to their hopes of reaching the last 16, finally began to press forward in pursuit of an equaliser.
Achille Emana was introduced as an attacking substitute just after the hour mark and Geremi and Mohamadou Idrissou were thrown on with a quarter of hour remaining.
Japan coped well with the growing threat, restricting Cameroon to long-range strikes, and the closest they came to surrendering their lead was when Mbia rattled the woodwork with a powerful drive from distance.
Kawashima then made a remarkable reflex save to deny Webo, unaware that the whistle had already been blown for a foul in the box, as his side clung on to claim three valuable points.
Japan 1-0 Cameroon
Scorer: Honda 38
Japan: 21 Eiji Kawashima, 03 Komano, 04 Tanaka, 05 Nagatomo, 22 Nakazawa, 02 Abe, 07 Endo, 08 Matsui (Okazaki, 68), 17 Hasebe (Inamoto, 88), 18 Honda, 16 Okubo (Kisho Yano, 81)
Cameroon: 16 Hamidou, 02 Assou-Ekotto, 03 N’Koulou, 05 Bassong, 21 Matip (Emana, 63), 11 Makoun (Geremi, 75), 18 Enoh, 19 M’bia Etoundi, 09 Eto’o, 13 Choupo-Moting (Idrissou, 75), 15 Webo.
Referee: O Benquerenca (Por) .