TOKYO - Japan toasted Shunsuke Nakamura on Sunday after his strike gave the "Blue Samurai" a 1-0 win over Bahrain and all but booked their place at the 2010 World Cup. Pictures of the Celtic midfielder bleeding from his lip and with a bandaged hand celebrating his deflected 47th-minute free kick on Saturday filled the back pages of Japanese newspapers. "Shunsuke puts Japan on the brink" and "Bleeding but still showing Samurai spirit" ran the headlines in the popular Nikkan Sports and Sankei Sports dailies. Nakamura's goal lifted Japan above Australia at the top of their group in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifiers and to the brink of their fourth straight finals appearance. The Socceroos can retake top spot by beating Uzbekistan in Sydney on Wednesday but with daylight between the top two and the teams below them, Japan's passage to South Africa looks assured. "There was a lot of pressure on that free kick," Nakamura told Sunday's Japanese media. "The stadium went strangely quiet. There was this hush and I could feel everyone staring at me." Nakamura broke the deadlock against Bahrain in Saitama two minutes into the second half when his free kick ricocheted off a defender and looped in. "It came off the wall but a goal's a goal," said Nakamura after scoring his 23rd goal in 84 appearances for his country. "I was aiming for that corner anyway. "I bit my lip I was concentrating so hard. I didn't realise it was bleeding so much." The 30-year-old added: "It was a big three points for us to win but we can't afford to think about the World Cup finals just yet." Japan, whose best performance at a World Cup finals to date was when they reached the last 16 as co-hosts in 2002, have now won three and drawn two matches in Group One. Takeshi Okada's side play their final three qualifiers in the space of 12 days in June.
29 March 2009
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