TOKYO: Japan on Saturday rejoiced in its historic 1-0 friendly victory over footballing powerhouse France, avenging a humiliating 5-0 defeat in March 2001.
Friday’s win was Japan’s first-ever victory against the 1998 World Cup champions in six games, following one draw and four defeats.
Japanese sports papers lavished praise on Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa for his goal that felled the French.
“Kagawa struck the decider! The historic first win over France,” the Sports Nippon daily said.
Tabloid Nikkan Sports praised Standard Liege goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima for stopping France’s midfield wizard Franck Ribery.
Sports Nippon added: “Japan were overwhelmed and repeatedly threatened by taller, quicker France but didn’t allow a single goal.”
The hosts largely controlled the game at the Stade de France but they were caught cold with two minutes to play when forward Kagawa volleyed home Yuto Nagatomo’s cross at the end of a rapid counter-attack.
“As a team, we were able to score in a quick, wonderful way,” Kagawa said, quoted by the Sankei Sports.
“But we must work harder to catch up with the top teams in the world.
Everybody must have confidence that we can do it,” he said.
The Asahi Shimbun evening edition carried a headline: “Great revenge for defeat in St-Denis,” recalling the 2001 match.
Football journalist Toru Rokukawa also told the Nikkan Gendai tabloid: “In that game Roma midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata was the only one who was able to cope with the French players.
“After 11 years, Europe-based players now dominate the Japanese national team, such as Manchester United’s Kagawa, Inter Milan’s Nagatomo, Southampton’s (Maya) Yoshida.
“Even in an away game against a powerhouse, Japan now don’t lose a goal and can score from a counter-attack. I feel Japanese players and the national team have improved a great deal,” he added.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who led Japan to victory in last year’s Asian Cup in Qatar, said: “It’s a very, very good result that will give the players confidence, but our objective remains the 2014 World Cup.”
“We played a good second half. We managed to play in the spaces between their lines. The goal came after a great counter-attack, but in terms of chances, France were superior.
“We defended very well tonight but the players were a bit timid in the first half. At the end of the match, France put everything into attack and found themselves unbalanced.”
Japan, who will play Brazil in Poland next Tuesday, are currently six points clear of second-placed Jordan in Asian qualifying Group B for the 2014 World Cup.