Two matches, two wins and it’s all looking rather easy for the Dutch. They made light work of a committed Japanese side, winning by a one-goal margin which was more comfortable than the 1-0 scoreline suggests.
Once Wesley Sneijder had given the Netherlands the lead with a speculative shot that Eiji Kawashima should have saved, the European side rarely looked troubled. Japan had never come from a goal down to win a match at the World Cup finals, and though they upped their game after Sneijder’s strike, pressing more men forward and making three attacking changes, they couldn’t find an equaliser.
Just as in the first match against Denmark, the Netherlands failed to create many chances in the first half. The Dutch formation – a back four with two holding midfielders – looked overly defensive against a Japanese side, which rarely provided Keisuke Honda, playing alone upfront, with much support. Too often Robin van Persie, Sneijder, and Rafael van der Vaart found themselves outnumbered by Japanese defenders.
There were parallels with the Danish match at the start of the second half too, when once again the Dutch took the lead thanks to a mistake by their opponents.
Sneijder’s shot, though powerfully hit, should have been comfortably palmed away by Kawashima but the Japanese keeper dived too far to his right and ended up pushing the ball back to his left and into the net.
The game opened up after the goal.
At the other end Ibrahim Afellay could have made it two late on after Klaas Jan Huntelaar had put him clear, but Kawashima partially atoned for his earlier effort by saving at the Dutch forward’s feet.
Going into this tournament, little was expected of Japan, even from their own fans. But their two performances so far have been impressive. Although they lost today, at times they looked bright and inventive against one of the favorites.
They will fancy their chances in Rustenburg next Thursday against a Danish side that looked toothless against the Dutch in their opening game. For Japan, a repeat of today’s showing – if not the result – would almost certainly see them through to the second round.
The Dutch haven’t turned in a top class performance yet, but then they haven’t needed to.
They have an abundance of attacking talent on the bench, including the AC Milan striker Huntelaar and the exciting Hamburg winger, Eljero Elia. Arjen Robben, who once again missed out with a hamstring injury, is expected to be fit in time for the knockout rounds.
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