Monday June 14th, 2010

Three quick thoughts after Japan's 1-0 victory over Cameroon in Group E action on Monday:

1. Cameroon disappointed. The first half of the game was absolutely atrocious aside from Keisuke Honda's goal in the 39th minute, when he showed a nice first touch to bring a cross down and convert a shot from just a few yards out. Cameroon, regarded by many pundits as one of the stronger African nations present, appeared out of sorts and lacking imagination. There was not a single highlight -- not a nifty touch, a good run or even a crushing tackle -- worth mentioning. As for Japan, coach Takeshi Okada had his men clog the midfield and stay behind the ball. The result was that Cameroon, as ESPN analyst Ruud Gullit commented at halftime, "looked as if they don't know what they have to do."

2. Samuel Eto'o should have played higher. Eto'o, the Inter Milan man, did play the first 45 minutes. I double-checked. But you wouldn't have noticed Cameroon's captain until the 49th minute, when he cut through two defenders and surged into the box from the right side. He found Maxim Choupo-Moting in the clear, but he side-footed his shot wide. It was Cameroon's first real opportunity of the match and Eto's influence increased from there. But given how defensively Japan played, particularly after it grabbed the lead, it was probably going to take an individual moment of brilliance for Cameroon to score. You have to wonder if Eto'o would have been more effective playing higher, which he did in the game's closing moments, rather than trying to be the creator out of the midfield.

3. Japan's bunkering won't work against Denmark and Holland. Give the Blue Samurai credit. They had a plan against Cameroon and it worked. It was a momentous victory, Japan's first on foreign soil in a World Cup. Yet it is hard to envision Japan winning again if they play as defensively as they did Monday. Giving up acres of space in the midfield to Holland (who Japan face Saturday) is a recipe for disaster.

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