Keisuke Honda Drives Japan to World Cup Qualification

Japan became the first side to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil when playmaker Keisuke Honda scored an injury-time penalty to claim a 1-1 draw with Australia in a dramatic finale in Saitama on Tuesday.

The Blue Samurai dominated for most of the match but failed to convert that pressure into goals and Australia winger Tommy Oar looked to have made them pay when his 81st minute cross from the left looped over Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who flapped and failed to clear.

But the Japanese were not to be denied and they poured forward with the equalizer inevitably coming via Honda, who only arrived in Japan on Monday after helping CSKA Moscow to the Russian Cup on Saturday.

His cross was handled in the area by full back Matt McKay in stoppage time and the bleach blond attacker stepped up to leather the spot kick straight down the middle past Mark Schwarzer to send the crowd into raptures.

Japan’s soccer team tougher than ever

Japan’s Blue Samurai have warned they are tougher than ever after surviving an epic Asian Cup quarter-final duel against hosts Qatar with Borussia Dortmund goalmachine Shinji Kagawa finally on target.

Kagawa bagged a brace to cancel out Qatar’s lead twice while defender Masahiko Inoha hit the winner on the stroke of stoppage time as 10-man Japan battled to a 3-2 victory.

Japan fired up when centreback Maya Yoshida received a second yellow card on the hour for an innocuous tangle with Yusef Ahmed and Fabio Cesar curled in the subsequent free-kick to put Qatar ahead 2-1.

"We felt down. So we told each other to look straight ahead and play," Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe said.

"Nobody gave up till the end. I really feel we have grown stronger mentally.

"We’ve got momentum and coming through a situation like that confirmed our mental strength," added the 27-year-old, who also skippered Japan to the round of 16 at the World Cup last year.

In the semi-finals on Tuesday, Japan will face either fellow three-time champions Iran or South Korea, which Hasebe called "one rank or two ranks higher" than Qatar.

Read the rest of the story: Japan’s soccer team warn ‘We are tougher than ever’.