The first half was a miserable affair, yet it somehow produced a goal from Keisuke Honda. Stephane Mbia came closes for the Indomitable Lions in the closing stages of the match, striking a wonderful shot against the face of the Japanese bar.
In keeping with many of the matches at South Africa 2010, the start to this encounter was extremely pedestrian, with neither side making any kind of offensive headway in the early stages of the game as possession was frequently given away cheaply in front of a disappointingly empty stadium.
Genuine spells of pressure for either side were infrequent in the early stages, while ingenuity was an even scarcer commodity in the advanced areas of the field. Pierre Webo tried to bustle down the right channel for the Africans, but his cross was hacked away from the centre of the goal. For their part, the Japanese were retaining the ball better in the centre of the park, though posing no threat to Souleymanou Hamidou’s net.
Half an hour of the match passed without a solitary shot mustered by either side, with the Indomitable Lions swamped in the middle of the pitch by waves of Japan defenders, who seemed to roll effectively wherever the ball was. Blue Samurai goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima provided hope for the Africans, fumbling a couple of deep free kicks only to be bailed out by his defenders.
On 37 minutes, Eyong Enoh finally gave the crowd their first shot to cheer with a tame low drive from the edge of the penalty box trundling into the arms of Kawashima.
Within seconds, Japan managed to grab the lead. Diasuke Matsui, on his unnatural right, was given room to cut onto his favoured left foot by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Grenoble man’s centre was then misjudged by Stephane Mbia, whose error allowed Honda to control the ball at the far post and slam into the net from six yards.
Samuel Eto’o, placed away on the right wing, had been anonymous in the first half, but it only took him four minutes following the restart to make an impression on the second period. Dancing away from a couple of challenges, he cut the ball back from the byline, but Maxim Choupo-Moting bent his shot wide of goal.
Cameroon’s play was certainly brisker in the early stages of the second half, though they were still making little headway. Choupo-Moting cut in from the flank to shoot wide from the edge of the box, but Paul Le Guen’s side certainly didn’t look liable to level.
Yasuhito Endo rather summed up the attacking threat Japan posed in the second half when he hammered a free kick too long for his team-mates when well positioned to deliver a dangerous cross. But the tenacious and well-drilled Japanese defence was such that there rarely looked likely to be any danger of the forwards needing to score again for the Asians to take three points.
Le Guen acted by introducing Geremi and Mohammadou Idrissou, but the pattern of the game changed none.
A rare Japanese attack nearly brought with it a second goal as Makoto Hasebe prodded a meaningful shot towards the corner of Hamidou’s goal from 25 yards. The goalkeeper got down to palm the ball clear and was partially saved as Shinji Okazaki, who was closing in on the follow-up, was deemed offside.
Time was by now an extremely scarce commodity and Cameroon were thrusting forward at every opportunity. With only five minutes remaining a stunning hit from Mbia cracked the face of the crossbar as he took aim from 25 yards out. Had the Marseille man’s shot been six inches lower, it would have been a real contender for goal of the tournament, but the Indomitable Lions were left cursing their luck as Achille Emana’s deflected follow-up was deflected straight at the goalkeeper.
This late enterprise came too late to bring with it a levelling goal, leaving Cameroon to approach their next game against Denmark knowing that defeat will see them likely eliminated. Japan, meanwhile, can optimistically look forward to the Netherlands, despite showing little enterprise in their opening game.