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FIFA World Cup: Japan go through to last 16; out class Denmark 3-1

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japan_score.jpgDenmark crashed out of the FIFA World Cup today as they were beaten 3-1 by an inspired Japanese side on the final day of Group E fixtures. The Danes needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the last 16 at the Japanese expense. The ‘Blue Samurai', however, dished out a master class as they out ran, out passed and out thought their supposedly superior European counterparts. First half free kicks from Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo had given the Japanese the perfect start as went into half time with a comfortable 2 goal cushion.

The second half was no different as the Danes struggled to impose themselves. The European side got a goal back through a penalty from Tomasson; however, the Asian giants killed the game in the closing minutes with a wonderful goal scripted by the rising star of Asian football Keisuke Honda. With this win Japan join group leaders Netherlands into the last 16. The ‘Blue samurai' will now take on the Paraguayans in the next round on Tuesday, June 29th in what promises to be a keenly contested affair between two under dogs of the World Cup.


Denmark and Japan clashed at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg with a place in the last 16 beckoning both sides. A win for Denmark was the only result that would have seen them go through to the next round while a draw was sufficient for the Asian giants. On paper, the Danes looked a really strong outfit and were the heavy favourites to accompany the Netherlands in the last 16. However the FIFA World Cup 2010 has dispelled ‘on paper myths' with disdain and Japan were well capable of springing a surprise or two against their more fancied European opposition.

Denmark made two changes from the side that beat Cameroon 2-1 almost a week back. Per Kroldrup replaced the suspended Simon Kjaer in the heart of defence while Thomas Kahlenberg took the place of Jesper Gronkjaer. Kjaer's absence was especially vital as he has looked like a real star in the making, and was vital to Denmark's defensive third. Japan though fielded the same line up that lost to a solitary Wesley Sneijder strike last Saturday. With the Danes having no option but to look for goals, the match promised to be more of a battle between the tenacious Asians and the desperate Europeans.

The start of the match was along the expected lines with the Danes having the majority of the possession and the Japanese more concerned about retaining their defensive shape than on keeping the ball. The first notable piece of action was a booking for Endo. Bizarrely, the referee punished the Japanese playmaker for time wasting in the 12th minute! The first danger for either goal was in the very next minute when Sorensen got himself into an awkward position and cleared a cross with his legs. Makoto Hasebe then gave Sorensen and the Danes a major scare when his shot drifted inches wide of the post in the 14th minute. At the other end Jon Dahl Tomasson missed the goal by another inch or two as the game suddenly sprang to life after a dull 10 minutes or so.

The match got its first goal in the 17th minute when Japan's star player Keisuke Honda blasted a free kick from nearly 35 yards into the back of the Danes' net. Sorensen again got his positioning wrong and his initial misjudgement regarding the direction of ball cost him and Denmark dear. That being said, the strike from Honda was pure class, and easily one of the best goals this World Cup has seen thus far.

The Europeans looked for a swift reply but Tomasson couldn't connect after drifting in behind the Japanese defence. Bizarrely, the referee got his time in the spotlight again; and this time for another ‘perceived' act of time wasting - the ‘culprit' this time was Japan's left back Yuto Nagatomo. However, the Japanese weren't affected one bit and Endo gave the Japanese a reason for pure ecstasy in the 30th minute with a superb curling free kick that beat a full stretch drive from a clearly overworked Thomas Sorensen.

The rest of the half petered out to a relatively dull end with Denmark having the majority of the ball and the Japanese preventing them from doing much with it. The Danes now needed 3 goals without reply to entertain any hopes of a last 16 place in the FIFA World Cup 2010. Clearly, it seemed to be a herculean task considering the ineffective display from the European side's attacking coterie of Bendtner, Rommedahl and Tomasson.

Sorensen started the second half with some trepidation as he fumbled a free kick from Endo onto the post in the 49th minute. Fortunately for the Danish stopper, Honda fired the rebound over the bar. At the other end, Eiji Kawashima in the Japan goal bravely denied a way back to the European side by putting his body on the line and denying Tomasson a simple tap in in the 52nd minute. It was end to end stuff with both sides unwilling to take a step back. Jakob Poulsen brought the best out of Kawashima in the 58th minute with a vicious strike on goal; but the Japanese stopper stood firm. Then two minutes later, Daniel Agger's well struck free kick was denied an entry into the back of the Japanese net by Kawashima - clearly having an exceptional second half.

With short passing game failing to create any clear cut chances, the Danes resorted to long ball tactics. Japan though stuck to their guns and limited the threats to the bare minimum. Bendtner was unusually quiet and had little to show after an hour's play. Tomasson missed a gilt edged chance in the 70th minute when he embarrassingly missed his kick from Rommedahl's cut back. Soren Larsen hit the bar in the 79th minute and then Daniel Agger earned his side a penalty after Hasebe brought him down in the box. Tomasson almost fluffed his lines again with a poor penalty, but the veteran poacher was able to somehow ‘mis hit' the rebound into the back of the net. A personal milestone for the veteran, who equalled Poul Nielsen's record as the highest goal-getter in Denmark's wonderful footballing history.

Any hopes of a Danish come back were put to rest in the 87th minute when Shinji Okazaki got Japan's 3rd goal. Keisuke Honda danced around the Denmark defence before neatly pulling the ball back for the substitute striker, who made no mistake. The goal put an end to any semblance of a ‘fairytale ending' from the European side as Denmark crashed out of the FIFA World Cup. Japan on the other join Group winners Netherlands in the last 16 and would now take on a strong Paraguay side on Tuesday, June 29th in Pretoria.

Teams:

Denmark: Sorensen, Agger, Kroldrup (Larsen 56'), Simon Poulsen, Jacobsen, Jorgensen (Jakob Poulsen 34'), Christian Poulsen, Kahlenberg (Eriksen 63'), Rommedahl, Tomasson, Bendtner

Japan: Kawashima, Tanaka, Nakazawa, Nagatomo, Komano, Abe, Endo (Inamoto 90+1'), Hasebe, Okubo (Konno 88'), Honda, Matsui (Okazaki 74')

Denmark 1-3 Japan
Honda (Japan) 17'
Endo (Japan) 30'
Tomasson (Denmark) 81' pen
Okazaki (Japan) 87'

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Netherlands 2 - 1 Cameroon

Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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