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Japan vow to make World Cup semi-finals

Japan have vowed to move mountains in the World Cup finals after becoming the first country to qualify for South Africa 2010 when they narrowly beat Uzbekistan 1-0 away.

"We will surprise the world! Hip, Hip, Hurrah!" the Blue Samurai chanted before spraying champagne over manager Takeshi Okada and themselves on the pitch in Tashkent late Saturday.

"At last, we stand on the start line of our challenge," said Okada, who has targeted a semi-final spot in South Africa after taking over from Ivica Osim in late 2007 when the Bosnian suffered a stroke. "I feel thrilled and thankful now that we have this chance," he told Japanese media.

Back in Tokyo Sunday, Okada said he had based his team concept on reaching the semi-finals. "I don't intend to change it. We will fight strong teams even if we are torn to tatters."

In Tashkent, striker Shinji Okazaki scored in the ninth minute but Japan failed to convert more chances and survived a flurry of Uzbek attacks as well as what they described as dubious calls by the Syrian referee. "We want to raise our level higher as we are aiming for the World Cup's last four," said Okazaki, who has scored seven goals in his eight internationals. Veteran centre back Yuji Nakazawa called Okada's hopes of reaching the semi-final stage a "huge flag for one person alone to bear."

"I think I can be one of the persons up front to support it," he said.

Front pages on Sunday's Japanese newspapers were full of headlines praising Japan's qualification for its fourth consecutive World Cup finals.

"Okada-ism in place. Now aim for last four," the daily Sankei Shimbun said.

Okada piloted Japan to a winless World Cup debut in France 1998 in his first stint as national coach.


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