If anyone doubted that quality soccer is now played all over the world, the Group E duel in Rustenburg between Japan and Denmark was all the proof they’re wrong. The Asian team defeated the European champions of 1992 in a most emphatic manner in a game that never saw Denmark having much chance of survival. It ended Japan 3, Denmark 1.
Although Japan needed only a draw from the Thursday’s game to progress to the second round, there’s no doubt that anything less than victory was on their mind from the very start. And what a team they have: great players in the peak of physical shape, committed to playing for their country and, above all, being a great team. And then they have a genius among them in Keisuke Honda. The CSKA Moscow player (Russians paid 6 million euros) was playing a game of cat and mouse with his Danish opponents and he won most of them. His brilliant first goal was also the first proper goal of the tournament from a free-kick, while his involvement in the third goal left Okazaki with the simplest of touches. Honda was intimately involved in just about every piece of the Japanese offensive puzzle in the match.
From their side, Denmark are a good team, but there was nothing special about them at this World Cup, except Denis Rommedal’s play in the Cameroon game. They are tall, strong and that’s pretty much it. They lack good ideas and do not dazzle with their technical skills. With a team like that, the Danes could do only so much, but the first round of the World Cup is where they should stay.
Japan will now face Paraguay in the next round, and should they repeat tonight’s performance, it is entirely possible that we will see them in the quarter-finals.
Here are the reporter’s notes:
Denmark: Sorensen; Poulsen, Agger, Kroldrup, Jacobsen, Rommedahl, Poulsen, Jorgensen, Kahlenberg, Tomasson, Bendtner.
Japan: Kawashima; Abe, Nakazawa, Tulio, Komano, Nagatomo, Okubo, Endo, Hasebe, Matsui, Honda.
Man of the match
- 3rd minute: Denmark has great interplay from the left that ends in Poulsen shooting the ball skywards. Great exchange, though.
- 8th minute: Per Krøldrup hits the side netting after a corner.
The opening minutes belong to Denmark. They have possession and are attacking. That doesn’t mean much, though, because it is possible that Japan is slow on getting into the game.
Japanese defence looks rather solid. It is doubtful they’ll give Denmark’s attackers trouble, especially Rommedahl.
- 12th minute: First yellow card of the game, to Japan’s Endo, for time wasting.
- 13th minute: First chance of the game goes to Japan for clever flick by Honda well stopped by Sorrensen.
- 13th minute: Great shot by captain Hasebe flies mere millimetres past Sorrensen’s goal.
- 14th minute: Tomasson’s shot skims Japan’s far post. Great shot.
- 17th minute: Honda scores a goal from a free-kick, but it was more of a rocket, than a fast ball! Sorrensen was helpless, even if the shot was not less than 35 metres.
- 22nd minute: Tomasson misses the ball in front of goalkeeper Kawashima, who manages to punch it to the corner.
Denmark now has to score two goals to qualify. Japan’s defence looks composed, but Nagatomo gets another yellow card for delaying the throw-in.
- 29th minute: First yellow card for Denmark: Krøldrup downs Japanese attacker right in front of Denmark’s penalty box. Then, Japan scores again! Enzo’s brilliant free kick beats Sorrensen who stood no chance of stopping it.
Photo: Japan’s Yasuhito Endo (R) scores a second goal against Denmark during the 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
- 32nd minute: Japanese counter-attack stopped in the last second by Poulsen’s brave header.
- 34th minute: Denmark coach Morten Olsen brings on J Paulsen instead of Jorgensen.
After Japan’s second goal, the pattern is clear: Denmark will be left to attack and Japan will counter-attack, and they appear well able to puncture their opponent’s net a few more times.
- 41st minute: A free-kick for Japan from the spot where they scored the first goal, this time not much luck.
- 42nd minute: Denmark defence at sixes and sevens as Japanese roam their penalty box freely, but nobody finally manages to trouble Sorrensen.
- 44th minute: Christian Poulse shoots from 40m, without troubling
- 44th minute: Japan’s counter-attack sees ball barely missing the goal after deflection.
First half ends
- 51st minute: Kahlenberg misses the ball to the far post.
- 52nd minute: Tomasson is alone in front of Kawashima, but Hasebo manages to stop the ball just as the Dane was ready to tap it into the net.
- 54th minute: Good break by Japan sees Nagatomo shoot the ball skywards.57th minute: Japanese play beautiful soccer from time to time and score again, but only to see Honda’s punt disallowed for a marginal offside. It does appear that Japan will score more goals.
- 59th minute: Great strike by Jacon Poulsen well stopped by Kawashima.
Denmark are now besieging Japan’s goal.
- 60th minute: Good free-kick by Agger, but not much worry for Kawashima who stops it routinely.
- 65th minute: Okubu’s shot is stopped easily by Sorrensen, but coach Olsen is livid for Danish defence letting him shoot so freely from 18m.
- 68th minute: Erikssen, the 18-year-old substitute, shoots, rather menacingly, and misses by a meter or two. Great shot.
- 70th minute: Scramble in front of Kawashima, but somehow Danes cannot capitalise on Japan’s defensive error.
Photo: Denmark’s Soren Larsen (C) fights for the ball with Japan’s Yuji Nakazawa (L) during a 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
- 77th minute: Okazaki’s header from the counter-attack is kept by Sorrensen, rather easily.
- 79th minute: Olsen’s shot hits Japan’s crossbar.
- 80th minute: Penalty for Denmark, as Hasebi down’s Agger.
- 81st minute: Tomasson’s shot is saved by Kawashima, but Tomasson scores from the rebound. Also injures himself.
Since Tomasson’s goal, the ball is mostly in Japanese possession and in Danish half. Not a good way for Danes to look for their next goal.
- 87th minute: Okazaki scores another goal for Japan! Honda’s created havoc on the left side and sent a ball to Okazaki who simply couldn’t miss an empty goal. Honda is a rockstar!
- 94th minute: End. Japan wins!
By Branko Brkic
Main photo: Reuters