The Group E second match between the Netherlands and Japan seemed to be one of the most promising World Cup weekend matches. Instead, what viewers had in store for them was a rather lackluster first half and a decent, yet not good enough, second half.
The Orange team had beaten Denmark 2-0 in their debut and Japan were able to get a win over Cameroon, 1-0. As such, a winning team on this match would be looking at an almost certain knockout stage berth.
Still without Robben (sitting on the bench recovering from his injury) the Dutch team proceeded to have an overwhelming ball possession in the first half but with very little to show for it. The Japanese were showing good space control, covering all bases, but the Dutch themselves were playing very slowly. The first half ended without a single clear chance for either team to score.
In the start of the second half the Dutch started to pick up the pace and become more objective towards the opposing goal. In the 53rd minute they scored a goal they were not exactly deserving, as Wesley Sneijder shot a powerful strike for outside the box; the Dutch goal was however, as much due to Sneijder’s shot as due to poor goalkeeping by Kawashima. The Japanese goalkeeper apparently tried to punch the ball but did it with both hands open; the ball grazed on his left hand and was deflected inside.
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From there on the Japanese side started to have more ball possession and to play more inside the Dutch midfield, getting near Stekelenburg’s goal as much as possible. They had some chances to score, namely through three Okubo shots and also with a late Okazaki attempt. But the Dutch also had two clear chances to score; Elia, Afellay and Huntelaar came in to refresh the team and it was Afellay who had those two chances at goal, very late in the game. In both cases it was Kawashima who opposed him, thus partially making up for the goal he let in.
The Dutch did not play as well as they did against Denmark. Some players, such as Van der Vaart, were strangely absent from the game. Still, they now have 6 points to show for, and that is what is more important at the end of the day.
As for the Japanese, they played well enough to deserve a draw in this match. They don’t have players as skilled as the Dutch have, but they put in more effort than what the Europeans did. Besides Kawashima (for the wrong reasons), two players stood out positively in this squad today: Tulio Tanaka (extremely solid defending and positioning, and the balls played high were all his) and Yoshito Okubo (he was clearly the offensive engine for his side, even more so because Honda had an off-day).
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Next for the Netherlands: they meet Cameroon on the 24th, comfortably coming in to that game with 6 points and low to no pressure on their collective shoulders. Coach Marwijk may decide to rotate some players and perhaps Robben will see some limited playing time.
Next for Japan: they also play on the 24th, but against Denmark. The Japanese have handled themselves well so far, good enough to deserve to go through to the next stage. But they will have to produce on the field against Denmark to do effectively do so.