When Japan square off with Cameroon on Monday, villagers in the remote mountain community of Nakatsue-mura will be cheering hard for their 'home team' - the Indomitable Lions from Africa.
While the rest of Japan will be cheering on their national side the Blue Samurai, residents in the village have a soft spot for the Cameroon team, whose players won local hearts and minds years ago.
Nakatsue-mura, on the southern island of Kyushu, adopted the African side as their own when the team picked the location as their training camp for the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and South Korea.
"Residents say we want to support the people we actually met rather than the Japanese national team, whom we have never met," said Shunsuke Hase, a local resident active in maintaining special ties with Cameroon.
Cameroon's star striker Samuel Eto'o "is like a grandson to many people here. He was a naive young man when he came here", Hase told AFP hours before the Japan-Cameroon match.
Until the 2002 World Cup, many of the village's roughly 1,300 residents had never seen a match of football.
But the village received national attention for the enthusiastic welcome it gave to the Cameroon players, who are remembered for their warm exchanges with local children and the elderly.
Residents plan a public viewing of the match with drinks and all-you-can-eat Cameroon food. Staff from the Cameroon embassy were scheduled to visit the remote region for the event.
The village's former mayor was set to attend the match in South Africa and sit alongside Cameroon supporters.
Many of the villagers have kept private contact with some of the Cameroon football officials and visited the African nation, Hase said.
Ahead of the Japan-Cameroon match, Hase has worked with area residents to collect donations - including more than 300 pairs of shoes and 31 footballs - to give to children in Cameroon.
"I was expecting to collect about 30 pairs of shoes. But the response was overwhelming," he said. "We are considering doing this again in future."Reuse content