A disciplined Japanese outfit forced the mighty Oranje to walk the extra mile and grind out a narrow 1-0 win – Weisley Sneijder’s second-half strike being the only differentiator between the two teams. With two wins from as many matches, Netherlands find themselves at the summit of group E, after this result.
Dutch coach Van Marwijk opted for a five-man midfield with Robin Van Persie as the lone striker, while Nigel De Jong and Van Bommel served as the holding midfielders. His Japanese counterpart Takeshi Okada deployed a similar 4-5-1 formation as well. Japan started off on a positive note with Honda making a solo run at the Netherlands defence, only to be brought down unfairly by Van Bommel outside the box, but the hastily taken short free-kick yielded nothing.
Slowly but steadily Netherlands began to keep possession and started to threaten the Japanese goal with some good link-up play between Kyut, Van Persie and Sneijder. Sneijder unleashed a powerful free-kick from a decent position, but the ball sailed well over Kawashima’s crossbar in the tenth minute. The Oranje brigade continued to attack with dynamism, but their effort was devoid of any venom.
Takeshi Okada’s boys seemed content to just sit back and defend as Netherlands could not find the decisive ball in the Japan box to split the goal-mouth. Japan defended with utmost resoluteness and even ventured into the Dutch defensive third with a couple of quick counter attacks. One such counter attack saw Nakazawa combining well with Honda and the former tried his luck from 25 yards out, but the effort missed the target by miles.
Despite having two-third of possession in the opening half-hour, Oranje failed to register even a single shot on goal. Ten minutes from the half time whistle, Van der Wiel became the first player of the day to get into the referee’s book for unduly blocking Matsui outside the box. Endo delivered a curling ball towards the far post for Tulio, only for the midfielder to head the ball out wide. The first half ended as a cagey affair, with none of the teams being able to assert their authority on the game.
The second half began with a greater sense of purpose from the Netherlands, as they pushed Japan on to the back foot with some decent build-ups through the wings. The only goal of the match came in the 53rd minute, albeit through a goalkeeping error that has become the recurring theme of this tournament. Marcos Tulio failed to clear a cross from the left, which fell to Van Persie, who laid the ball to an unmarked Sneijder, right on the edge of the box. Sneijder fired a bullet straight at Kawashima but with a hint of late outward movement, which the Japanese custodian failed to spot and only managed to get a hand on the ball, before it rolled over the goal-line.
The Japanese were forced to come out of their shell after the goal. They began to attack with renewed vigor and looked to unsettle the Dutch defense that had hardly been tested thus far. As a last ditched effort, Okada brought on former Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura into the attack, at the hour-mark. Van Marwijk also played his card and introduced his super-sub Eljero Elia into the fray with twenty minutes to go before the final whistle. Despite the substitution, Japan could not get the desired breakthrough. With just over a quarter of an hour to go, Okada made a double substitution to bring in his young strikers Keiji Tamada and Shinji Ozakazi. Ozakazi almost scored the equalizer for Japan just before the final whistle, but his excellent effort from close range missed the target by a whisker and sailed narrowly over the cross-bar.
TheHardTackle Player Of The Match:
Mark Van Bommel (Netherlands)
The inspirational leader – Van Bommel – was clearly the star performer of the day. The defensive screen did all the dirty work himself and provided excellent cover to the back four. He contributed to the attack as well, providing the strikers with some neat through balls.
TheHardTackle Referee Report Card:
Hector Baldassi (ARG) – A
The Argentinean official did his job reasonably well. He dished out just one yellow card to Van Der Wiel and helped the flow of the match to continue in rhythm. He had decent control over the players throughout the match.
NETHERLANDS 1 – 0 JAPAN
Netherlands Line-up: Maarten Stekelenburg; Gregory van der Wiel, Johnny Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst (captain); Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder (Afellay 83’), Nigel de Jong, Rafael van der Vaart (Elia 72’), Robin van Persie (Huntelaar 88’).
Caution: Van Der Wiel (36’)
Scorers: Sneijder (53’)
Japan Line-up: Eiji Kawashima; Yuki Abe, Yuji Nakazawa, Tulio, Yuichi Komano; Yuto Nagatomo, Yoshito Okubo (Ozakazi 77’), Yasuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe (captain) (Tamada 77’), Daisuke Matsui (Nakamura 64’); Keisuke Honda