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   June 14, 2002 | 1530 IST


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Japan inspire national celebrations

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John Mehaffey

Japan inspired rapturous nationwide celebrations on Friday and maintained the unbroken record of World Cup hosts by advancing to the second round with a 2-0 win over Tunisia.

No host nation has yet been eliminated in the opening round and the pressure is now on co-hosts South Korea, who need a draw with Portugal in Inchon in their evening match to go through from group D.

Second half goals from Hiroaki Morishima and Hidetoshi Nakata, greeted with deafening applause at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka, were enough for Japan to top group H and qualify for the knockout stages for the first time. Japan lost each of their three matches on their World Cup debut in France four years ago.

In the afternoon's other group H match, Belgium also advanced after a 3-2 win over Russia in Shizuoka. Japan will now meet Turkey in the second round while Belgium have a daunting challenge against the new tournament favourites Brazil.

Japan's triumph means that for the first time at a World Cup each of the continental confederations -- Europe, South America, North and Central America, Africa and Asia -- are represented in the last 16.


World Cup fever again gripped Japan on Friday. During their match blue-garbed fans adorned with the "Hinomaru" national flag and chanting "Ni-ppon, Ni-ppon, Ni-ppon" rocked the stadium.

Even before the game was over, a crowd of ecstatic fans gathered on a bridge over Osaka's Dotonbori River, where baseball fans traditionally leap into the waters to celebrate a win. Some, unable to contain themselves, jumped in after Morishima's goal.

After a cautious opening half, Japan cut loose after the interval. Substitute Morishima scored with his first touch in the 48th minute and almost snatched another five minutes later when a header struck the post.

Man-of-the-match Nagata headed the second from a cross from Daisuke Ichikawa, who had replaced Junichi Inamoto at halftime.

"I think we deserved to win," said Japan's French coach Philippe Troussier. "We have built up a momentum which has carried us forward from the first round, helped by the atmosphere from the home crowd. The momentum will carry forward into the matches that follow."

Belgium scored twice in the final 12 minutes to eliminate Russia in another match which started slowly but then exploded after the interval.


Johan Walem scored the only goal of the first half, curling a free kick into the top corner of the Russian net from 25 metres in the seventh minute.

Eighteen-year-old striker Dmitry Sychev, brought on after only 34 minutes, began to look increasingly dangerous and after a shot from him was saved, Vladimir Beschastnykh snatched the equaliser which would have been enough to put Russia through.

But substitute Wesley Sonck and captain Marc Wilmots replied for Belgium. A late goal from Sychev did not influence the result.

In the evening group D matches in South Korea, the co-hosts can also go through if they lose and Poland defeat the United States by the same margin. The Poles have already been eliminated.

Hwang Sun-hong, South Korea's leading striker for the past decade, will win his 100th cap and is confident his side can exploit what he sees as a weakness in the Portugal team.

"Portugal's wings are known to be thin," he said. "We will attack the flanks."

Poland are waiting for late fitness tests on defender Jacek Bak and midfielder Radoslaw Kaluzny. Both are suffering from back problems.

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