Keisuke Honda made history Sunday, becoming the first Japanese player to score at three World Cups after hitting a 78th-minute equalizer in Japan's 2-2 draw with Senegal.
For the second game in a row, the veteran midfielder made an instant impact after coming on as a second half substitute, firing home to secure a point for the Samurai Blue at Ekaterinburg Arena.
"I knew if I missed it would be a horrible scenario so I am happy I scored," Honda said. "I wanted us to seal qualification today (but) this shows how tough the World Cup is."
The goal followed his instrumental role in Japan's 2-1 triumph over Colombia in Saransk, where he provided the precisely placed corner that Yuya Osako headed home for the winner.
Honda's historic strike adds another chapter to a remarkable turnaround for the 32-year-old, who just months ago looked at risk of missing out on World Cup selection under Japan's previous coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
The midfielder, now playing for Mexican first-division side Pachuca, gained staunch support, however, following the sacking of the Bosnian and his replacement with former Japan Football Association technical director Akira Nishino two months before the tournament.
Nishino gave an unqualified endorsement of Honda ahead of the World Cup, describing him as "indispensable for the national team." The bleach-blonde playmaker has more than repaid the coach's faith, helping Japan to joint leadership of Group H after two games.
After Sunday's match, Honda was already looking toward Japan's final group game, against Poland on Thursday.
"I think we played a lot better than we did against Colombia," said the former AC Milan man. "The next game is crucial and we have to try and prepare ourselves to put on a really good performance.
"If we lose there is a possibility that we will be going out. It's crunch game and there will be nerves."
A World Cup debutant at the 2010 tournament, Honda emerged as one of Japan's stars in South Africa, leading the team to a place in the knockout stage after wins against Cameroon and Denmark.
Honda struck the winner in Japan's 1-0 victory over the Indomitable Lions, then provided one of the highlights of the tournament with a spectacular free-kick goal in the 3-1 triumph against the Danes.
At the 2014 World Cup, when Japan failed to advance from their group in Brazil, Honda scored the Samurai Blue's first goal of the tournament in a 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast.
Honda has now been directly involved in seven of Japan's last 10 World Cup goals, scoring four and assisting three. The goal against Senegal, however, was his first after 15 scoreless international games.
In what is certain to be his final World Cup, the ever-confident Honda will be backing himself to continue providing big moments for his team.