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Japan sense history ahead of Paraguay clash

High hopes trounced pessimism as Japan's long-suffering football fans dared to dream of a historic WC advance when the Blue Samurai battle Paraguay on Tuesday.

sports Updated: Jun 29, 2010 14:21 IST

High hopes trounced pessimism as Japan's long-suffering football fans dared to dream of a historic World Cup advance when the Blue Samurai battle Paraguay on Tuesday.

Supporters in Tokyo were united in hoping that the only Asian side remaining in the tournament would reach the quarter-finals to become Japan's most successful World Cup side ever.

Bars across the nation were preparing to show the second-round clash kicking off at 11:00 pm in Japan, and tickets for a big-screen viewing in Tokyo's hip Omotesando district were all sold out.

Bleached-blond goal ace Keisuke Honda dominated the front pages of Japanese sports newspapers, with the striker looking to continue his golden streak to carry the team past their first appearance in the second round on foreign soil.

"Honda, make history tonight," the Nikkan Sports implored, chiming with the Sports Nippon's headline: "Make history! Honda shoots for last eight."

The striker's haircut has been a major talking point during the tournament and Japanese media interpreted Honda's even shorter coiffure ahead of the Paraguay game as an embodiment of his fighting spirit and national pride.

"Honda showed up in the field with his vaunted blond locks shining even brighter and his eyebrows also coloured in gold," the Nikkan Sports swooned following the team's practice session Monday in Pretoria, South Africa.

"The battle will be the showdown between the strikers -- the rising star Honda and Paraguay's prince (Roque) Santa Cruz," it said.

"The stage is all set. Honda will face the historic battle, with Japan's hopes and dreams on his back."

Honda, who helped CSKA Moscow reach the Champions League quarter-finals after moving from Dutch side Venlo in January, scored two goals and set up another as underdogs Japan upset Cameroon and Denmark and went down fighting 1-0 to the Dutch.

Japanese TV stations were also upbeat about the Samurais, who many in the country had forecast to drop out of the first round before their unexpected victory against Cameroon in their opening match.

TV Asahi interviewed midfielder Nozomi Hiroyama, who played in Paraguay's league and said: "I think Japan can win.
"Paraguay are under such pressure," Hiroyama said. "If Japan can bring out their impatience and exploit defensive weaknesses, that would be an ideal scenario" for victory, he said.

Japan had never won a World Cup game outside their own country prior to the event in South Africa, making their only second-round appearance in 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea.

Paraguay signalled their strength by coming within a point of top spot in the gruelling South American qualifying programme.

Paraguay drew with Italy, beat Slovakia and drew with New Zealand to reach the last 16 for the fourth time.