To infinity and beyond
25 June 2017 23:00 (South Africa)
Africa

The industrious Dutch break Japan’s iron defence, but only just

  • Andy Rice
    andy rice
    Andy Rice

    Andy Rice is a founding partner of Yellowwood Future Architects, a marketing strategy consultancy. In his other lives, he is the southern hemisphere's only supporter of Cambridge United Football Club, and was once upon a time the South African National Spoofing Champion. He has played football at Wembley and cricket at Lord's within the same weekend, but troubled the scorer on neither occasion. Things could only go up from here.

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The Netherlands came close to making the same mistake that the German and Spanish side fell for, of dominating possession but not converting it into chances at goals. Fortunately for them, Wesley Sneijder’s shot found the back of the net. After they won the game 1-0, the Dutch have now officially qualified for the next round.

Japan has the most organised and disciplined defence of any team in this World Cup. Takeshi Okado, the Japanese coach, used it as a game-play tactic. The Japanese were quite happy to let the Netherlands keep possession, because they could repel anything that the Dutch threw at them. And so it was in the first half. The Netherlands only had one shot on goal in the entire first half, the shot coming in the 45th minute from Rafael Van Der Vaart.

The Blue Samurai also defended from afar. No part of their half of the field was comfortable territory for the Dutch. Whenever an orange shirt got the ball, he was immediately swamped by two or three white shirts. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese made little effort to attack in the first half. You got the sense that they were quite happy to make a draw of the match.

The Netherlands were, for their part, extremely patient. Perhaps realising the lessons learned when Germany fell to Serbia and Spain to Switzerland, they refused to allow the resolute Japanese defence to frustrate them. They kept the play fluid in their midfield as well, probing and passing, and probing and passing again. The Dutch were also very creative in their tactics, with Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder often swapping positions in an attempt to draw the Japanese defenders out, but the far easterners maintained their discipline throughout, refusing to break up their line.

Photo: Dutch soccer fans hold up a placard which reads "Ok, now we want to have a new dress", during their team's 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against Japan at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

All that changed in the 53rd minute when Robin van Persie set Sneijder up for a shot. Kawashima tried to catch the shot but spilled the ball into his own goal. It was a bizarre decision by the Japanese keeper, who should have opted to punch the ball away. He seemed to have been completely unsighted by the ball’s flight. His error and Sneijder’s goal opened play up completely. The Japanese were forced to go raiding into the Dutch half, looking for a goal.

Maarten Stekelenburg was called on to fend shots time and again, as the Japanese game play was turned on its head. Suddenly it was the Netherlands with their backs up against the wall, and the Japanese probing for holes in the orange defence.
Dutch substitutes Eljero Elia and Ibrahim Afellay brought speed into the Dutch side, and they were able to make several promising breaks. Afellay made the same dreadful error on two separate occasions, choosing to shoot instead of passing to his team mates. His coach, Bert van Marwijk, will demand an explanation, no doubt.

It was a deserved victory for the Dutch, who now have two wins from two games. Japan can take something away from today’s encounter – a similar performance against Denmark on Thursday should see them through.

Starting line-ups

Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst; Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Rafael van der Vaart; Robin van Persie.

Japan: Eiji Kawashima; Yuki Abe, Yuji Nakazawa, Tulio, Yuichi Komano; Yuto Nagatomo, Yoshito Okubo, Yasuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe, Daisuke Matsui; Keisuke Honda.

Both the Netherlands and Japan have made no changes to their squads.

Man of the match

Wesley Sneijder

Before the match

There were weather concerns in the build-up to this match, but it’s all sunshine in Durban this afternoon.

First half

  • 2nd minute: Nigel de Jong has a few words with the referee. One hopes the indiscipline that was the undoing of the German and Nigerian teams will not plague this Dutch side.
  • 5th minute: Netherlands are concentrating on keeping possession and probing the Japanese defence patiently. Japan seem to be happy with this arrangement.
  • 7th minute: Yuji Nakazawa brings Robin van Persie down and it’s a free kick to the Netherlands. Wesley Sneijder’s free kick goes high.
  • 7th minute: Van Persie took quite a tumble there, and caught Yuichi Komano in the face with an outstretched boot. Was that intentional or not?

Komano has been stretchered off. There’s a touch of blood on his face, but he’ll be back on.

Dirk Kuyt attempted a spectacular bicycle kick. It would have been the most dramatic goal of the tournament had that one gone in.

  • 11th minute: First shot of goal for Japan by Nagatomo. The shot is just wide of Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal.

The Netherlands have 75% of the possession at the moment, which gives you an idea of how little of the ball Japan is seeing.

The Netherlands are being forced to pass the ball back to their central defenders a lot. Every time an orange shirt gets the ball within the Japanese half, he’s immediately swamped by two or three white shirts.

  • 22nd minute: The Netherlands are still holding on to that possession. They are being extremely patient against a resilient and shrewd Japanese defence, but it doesn’t make for breathtaking football, it must be said.
  • 24th minute: Yoshito Okubo is caught in an offside trap. The Dutch aren’t stupid in their defence either.
  • 25th minute: Van Persie raises an arm and pushes Yuji Nakazawa away. The Japanese defender collapses as if he’s been rabbit-punched in the kidneys, but both the Argentinean referee and van Persie are not amused.

Photo: Japan's Yuichi Komano is hit on the face during a challenge with Netherlands' Robin van Persie (R) during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against Netherlands at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

  • 29th minute: Nakazawa is brought down again, this time by Rafael van der Vaart, and the referee is tempted to give a card but decides against it. Where was he when Germany played Serbia?
  • 32nd minute: Giovanni van Bronckhorst gets a bootful in the stomach from Daisuke Matsui. It wasn’t intentional, so no card is shown.
  • 35th minute: Gregory can der Wiel gets a yellow card for a cynical challenge on Daisuke Matsui. The free kick is good, and Tulio just makes connection with his head, but can’t find the goal.
  • 37th minute: Matsui gets Japan’s first real shot on target after a swift counter-attack, but if falls right in front of Stekelenburg.

Japan have a bit more purpose to their play now, challenging the Dutch for possession.

  • 40th minute: Japan wins a free kick after Okubo is brought down by De Jong in a good area. Honda takes it, but it goes high. High enough to strike the overhead camera equipment.
  • 42nd minute: Honda tries a low cross on the outer reaches of the Dutch penalty box, but can’t find a team mate.

The Netherlands have yet to have a shot on target. The Japanese are quite impregnable.

  • 45th minute: Van der Vaart finally has a shot on target for the Dutch. Something to do at last for Eiji Kawashima.

End of first half

As clever and nimble as the Dutch are, they’re going to have to think up something really clever to unlock this Japanese puzzle. Eljero Elia might just be the key here.

Second half

  • 46th minute: The Netherlands are far too slow in the attack.
  • 48th minute: Van Bronckhorst sets van Persie up for a header, but the Dutch striker can’t striker it hard enough.
  • 48th minute: Van Persie has another opportunity in front of goals, but skewers it wide.

Change of tactics for the Dutch here. They’re favouring the use of long balls into the penalty area.

  • 50th minute: Free kick to the Netherlands. Van der Vaart takes it, and it looks menacing, but Tulio defends it well. Dirk Kuyt was right behind the big Japanese defender.

Photo: Japan's goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima concedes a goal by Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder (unseen) during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

  • 53rd minute: Sneijder finally scores after van Persie sets him up. One of the few goals we’ve seen from distance in this World Cup.

Replay shows that the ball took a huge deflection off Kawashima. Why didn’t he just punch the shot away? He completely misjudged the ball’s flight.

Photo: Japan's goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima concedes a goal by Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder (unseen) during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

  • 56th minute: Yasuhito Endo fires a shot right at Stekelenburg, the Dutch goalkeeper.
  • 57th minute: Okubo takes a shot at goal which goes over the poles. The Japanese have responded well to going one down to the Dutch.
  • 59th minute: Free kick to Japan. Endo takes it and Yuki Abe flick it on with his head but it’s no challenge for Stekelenburg.

Wes Sneijder’s goal has opened play up nicely. Both sides are being more adventurous in their attack.

  • 63rd minute: Shunsuke Nakamura comes on for Matsui.
  • 65th minute: Okubo shoots wide. Game play has turned around here, with the Japanese doing all the attacking and the Netherlands defending.
  • 66th minute: Free kick to the Netherlands after Okubo catches van Persie on the ankle.
  • 67th minute: Van Persie chases a cross from Sneijder but it was struck too hard and he can’t reach it before it goes out.
  • 69th minute: Japan almost equalise after a cross is inexplicably not cleared by a Dutch defender. It almost falls to Honda but a smarter Dutch defender gets in the way.
  • 72nd minute: Elia comes on, and van der Vaart comes off.
  • 76th minute: Shinji Okazaki and Teiji Tamada come on for Makoto Hasebe and Okubo, respectively.
  • 77th minute: Elia sets van Persie up for a running shot, but Kawashima reaches the ball first.
  • 80th minute: Nakamura loses by the ball quite cheaply on the edge of the Dutch penalty area. Yuto Nagatomo was unmarked, and he waves his hands furiously at his team mates.
  • 82nd minute: Honda attempts to reach Tulio with a cross, but the cross is struck too hard.
  • 82nd minute: Sneijder comes off for Ibrahim Afellay.
  • 84th minute: Afellay makes a run in off an Elias pass and really should have passed to van Persie, but opts to shoot. Kawashima makes the save, and van Persie gestures, quite rightly, in disgust.
  • 87th minute: Van Persie comes off for Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
  • 88th minute: Afellay gets another shot at goal, and again he can’t beat Kawashima.
  • 90th minute: Okazaki comes within inches of levelling. His effort goes wide.

End of second half.

By Sipho Hlongwane

Photo: Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder (C) celebrates after scoring against Japan during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 19, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

  • Andy Rice
    andy rice
    Andy Rice

    Andy Rice is a founding partner of Yellowwood Future Architects, a marketing strategy consultancy. In his other lives, he is the southern hemisphere's only supporter of Cambridge United Football Club, and was once upon a time the South African National Spoofing Champion. He has played football at Wembley and cricket at Lord's within the same weekend, but troubled the scorer on neither occasion. Things could only go up from here.

  • Africa

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