Saturday, 19 June 2010

Holland v Japan

Holland 1 - 0 Japan
Sneijder 53

First it blows cold, then it blows hot, then the World Cup suddenly goes off the boil. If it was a souffle, it would be ruined.

It was a tough ask for the Japanese. Jon Champion had Craig Burley on the commentary team with him, and he asked him why can't Japan beat Holland? It struck me you could just as easily ask why can't Scotland beat Belgium? but it doesn't mean they're going to, and Japan clearly decided to start solidly and defend in depth in the way that Scotland didn't.

So Holland didn't get many shots on goal. Their best offensive play in the early stages was van Persie kicking Komano in the head. He'd been tripped, he'd got a free kick and he just rolled over and caught Komano with his boot. The commentators agreed that it looked like an accident, and I thought it was very clever just how much like an accident it looked.

Sneijder and Kuyt both had efforts, and for Japan Nagatomo shot wide after some good passing. Van Persie pushed Nakazawa in the neck, and Nakazawa went down holding his face. Do players really not realise the camera catches that kind of thing? And why, when there's clear evidence of that kind of simulation, is more action not taken? I'm sure it could be eliminated from the senior game easily enough.

Meanwhile, we had news of another injury. Apparently a woman in Johannesburg has ruptured her throat blowing her vuvuzela too hard. I'm saying nothing.

Holland's pressure continued, although all the meaningful strikes on goal were Japan's. Endo had a couple of headed chances, and Matsui hit a long range volley apparently more for the cameras than in any realistic expectation of scoring. Honda hit a free kick from 40 yards well over, prompting Champion to remind us that we've still not had a goal from a free kick in the tournament. Eventually we'll have the first free kick in the tournament when they forget to mention it, but not apparently any time soon.

The last effort of the first half, Van der Vaart's long range shot, could best be described as speculative, and Champion obliged. I missed the first five minutes of the second half because I was in the kitchen, and I'm not sorry.

Especially as I was back just in time for the goal. Van Persie played it back to Sneijder on the edge of the box, and his volley bent slightly in the air. It seemed to confuse Kawashima, who deflected it left and into the goal when he must have meant to deflect it right and wide of the post. It was a forgettable goal, which for that reason suited the game.

Japan came out of their shells after that, knowing they had to score, and the game picked up a bit. They've become the Greece of this tournament, Greece having apparently abandoned the role, trying to overcome superior opponents by wearing them down and hitting them onthe break. It worked against the Cameroons, but it didn't work today.

They gave it their best shot. Okubo dribbled round the momentarily statuesque van Persie to get a shot in, which was well saved by Stekelenburg, then put the next chance over the bar. Soon afterwards they caught van Persie trying to defend again, forcing him to slice a clearance over his own bar.

The Dutch responded by bringing Elia on, and he was soon creating chances like the ones he made against Denmark. He threaded a pass through to Afellay, who drew a smart save from the Dutch keeper. No more goals, but they did enough to put the Japanese off. They had one last good chance with Okazaki, and a highly dubious penalty appeal, but that was that.

So now Holland will be the first nation to qualify for the next stage, unless Cameroon beat Denmark tonight. Which I'm sure is what will happen.

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