Japan gave notice of their
potential on Thursday when they beat Denmark 3-1 in their final
Group E fixture and clinched a place in the last 16 of the World
Cup on foreign soil for the first time.
Two well-struck goals from free-kicks by Keisuke Honda,
after 17 minutes, and Yasuhito Endo, on the half-hour, put them
in command before a spirited Denmark revival saw them pull one
back through Jon Dahl Tomasson after 81 minutes.
your Japan WC shirt
Courageous in defence, slick and
inventive in attack, Japan
then dazzled again and put the contest beyond doubt with a third
goal, beautifully created by Honda for substitute Shinji Okazaki
with three minutes remaining.
That made sure of second place behind the Netherlands and
confirmed their passage to a well-deserved meeting with Paraguay
in Pretoria on Tuesday. On this form, they could go further.
"Our team has a strength that some
others don't have. All 23
of the players and all of the staff, we are one team together
really," said Japanese coach Takeshi Okada.
"We used that strength today and
the team worked very hard.
I think the players have just started to believe, in a physical
way, in what they can do and how far they can go."
Japan dominated the opening half
with some exceptional
slick, incisive football, their passing and movement at times
leaving the Danes looking bewildered and chasing shadows.
But Denmark never gave up and
proved that what they lack in
speed and skill, they can almost make up for in heart and
determination, mounting a second-half revival before bowing out
in the group stages for the first time in five finals.
"We are very disappointed, of
course," said coach Morten
Olsen. "We had the ambition and we believed we could go through.
"I don't think we played that
badly and, the way I saw it,
it was not a game where we were poor and Japan were good. It was
not like that. They had two set pieces and scored."
On a cold night at the Royal
Bafokeng Stadium, Japan were in
control from the start and stretched the Danish defence with
almost meticulous, one-touch play and the
speed of their movement created a series of chances before they
took the lead after 17 minutes with a superb goal by Honda.
Taking a free-kick 30 metres out
on the right, the
blue-gloved striker with bleached hair struck a left-foot shot
that faded to the left and away from the flat-footed Danish
keeper Thomas Sorensen, who looked helpless.
Denmark tried to exploit their
clear height advantage with
attempted high crosses, but it was a ploy the Japanese blunted
with excellent marking and brave defensive play. Tall striker
Nicklas Bendtner, one of three Danes to be cautioned, was easily
Tomasson shot narrowly wide and had another effort
saved, but the Danes were left reeling when Per Kroldrup tripped
Okubo and Endo curled a right-foot free-kick round the wall and
inside Sorensen's left post from 25 metres.
Japan almost scored a third early
in the second half when
Endo floated in another free-kick that the flapping Sorensen
could only fumble against a post before the Danes raised their
tempo and briefly put the Japanese goal under siege.
But they were unable to turn
possession into goals until a
push on Daniel Agger resulted in a late penalty that was taken
by Tomasson. His first shot was blocked, but he managed to
bundle in the rebound.
that revived their hopes, it was only for six minutes.
Then Honda again showed the dexterity of his left foot by
dancing into the penalty area, dummying Dennis Rommedahl and
unselfishly passing for Okazaki to score from close range and
spark wild celebrations.
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