Japan’s World Cup run so far has to be commended.  A solid, albeit dour, performance against Cameroon saw the Blue Samurai pick up their first win on foreign soil at a World Cup and had the added bonus of a clean sheet to boot. Golden boy Keisuke Honda knocked in the only goal of the match to give coach Takeshi Okada and Japan slice of success in the South African World Cup pie.

After much debate pre-tournament about their forward line, a much maligned area for Japan in the last decade, Okada seemed happy to go with an interchanging attack of Yoshito Okubo and Honda. The only worry so far is a distinct lack of goalscoring pedigree at international level. With only seven goals between the two in a combined 70 odd caps, it’s open to debate whether this formula has the firepower to take Japan further than the group stage.

Against Holland, Okubo looked particularly useful. Linking up with the midfield and generally just causing a headache for the Dutch. However, what was lacking was penetration and it was obvious when Keiji Tamada and Shinji Okazaki came on late in the game, that Okubo was very much a no risk option for Okada. Tamada and Okazaki looked dangerous for the short time they were on the pitch, and the latter almost popped up with a late equaliser for the Japanese, who finally went down 1-0.

Aside from frontline worries, the Blue Samurai have looked like a solid team unit and many of the senior players are standing up to be counted.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka was particularly vocal in the lead up to the tournament, more or less pointing out a need to ignore managerial instructions and operate using individual judgment. Whether that has been the truth of the matter or not, Tanaka has been a key figure in the Japanese backline. Truly one of the success stories to come out of Japan since the last World Cup, Tanaka has looked outstanding, providing much needed strength of character and leadership.

Indeed, leadership is something the Blue Samurai are not lacking in South Africa. Surprisingly lifted to the captaincy by Okada, Makoto Hasebe has shown his pedigree as a Bundesliga winner with some influential performances in midfield. His work often goes on under the radar, but Japan would be a much less imposing prospect without him.

Only Denmark now stand in the way of Japan and progress to the knockout stages, and a draw with Morten Olsen’s men would be enough to send the Asian giants through to only their second appearance in the last 16. And based on current form it would seem they are up to the task.

If anything, it is a lack of potency in front of goal that will do for Japan. Honda has provided an outlet so far, but a much sharper point will be needed for the Blue Samurai to put Denmark to the sword if the Danes do manage to sneak ahead.

However, Japan hold their destiny, or unmei in their own hands and it would take a very wise man to bet against them heading into the next round and perhaps, with a little luck, beyond.