The first half was quite a dreary affair with very few real chances. Holland possessed the ball for what looked like over 80% of the time, but very little of the possession came in their front third. In actuality, they held the ball for 69% of the time, which was the highest for any team so far in this World Cup. The few times that Holland did play some balls into the box, Japan’s defense was solid – better than it was against Cameroon - and Japan never felt the threat of a Dutch goal. However, Japan’s offense was even more dismal and Japan’s few attacks ended in one or two harmless shots and many balls bouncing over the end line. But the 0-0 halftime score was quite positive for Japan and there was hope that Japan would come out in the second half looking for a goal and try to squeak out a 1-0 win.
However, it was Holland that came out on the attack in the second half as they moved the ball around well and got in a number of crosses to Van Persie up front. Holland’s offensive attitude was finally rewarded when a ball was played back to Sneijder, who bombed a shot from 20-25 yards out. The shot was hard, low and had no spin, but Kawashima was in position to knock it out. Unfortunately for Japan, the ball seemed to take a last second swerve and as Kawashima’s body flew right, the ball went left. Kawashima got his hands on the ball but he could only deflect it into his own net. That was the piece of luck that Japan needed to keep the score 0-0, and unfortunately luck was not on Japan's side today. Not saying that the shot was a lucky shot, it was actually perfectly struck, but a little luck for Japan could've saved it. Kawashima did redeem himself twice later in the game when he stopped Afellay on two one-on-one breakaways.
After Sneijder’s goal, Japan went on the attack and it was pleasing to see that Japan are actually capable of possessing the ball. A number of balls got to Okubo and with his dribbling he was able to create a a few shots. While none of his shots were fear-inducing, I was pleased with his aggressiveness towards the goal. Shunsuke Nakamura finally made his 2010 World Cup debut and his experience showed as he was able to keep the ball and distribute. Though he didn’t show any of his killer passes from previous years, he did have a positive impact on the offense.
Japan’s one real chance came in the dying minutes of the game as Okazaki was sent through behind the defense. He volleyed the bouncing ball with his left foot from about 7 yards out, but the ball shot right over the ball. The shot was difficult in that Okazaki was running to his left and needed to tweak his body to direct the body towards goal, but a forward at the world level should be able to get this on net. Japan needed to convert this one chance and since this ball didn’t go in, Japan came away with zero points.
Not a Bad Result
Before the game, no one really knew how Japan would react to their win against Cameroon. There was some concern that Japan would suffer a victory hang-over and allow a number of goals to Holland’s offensive machine. Surely, some pundits were expecting Japan to let in four goals like Australia and South Korea have done already in this World Cup. Thankfully, Japan came to play and frustrated Holland for a good amount of the game. I was hoping for a 1-1 tie, but the 0-1 did not destroy our goal differential and still keeps Japan right in the hunt. We’ll have to wait on the result of the Cameroon Denmark match, but a decent result against Denmark should still get us through to the second round.
Denmark isn’t the dominant team that Holland is, but their organization, size and strength will be a challenge for Japan. Japan should be able to play more like they did in the second half today and go for a goal from the beginning. I didn’t mention Honda in today’s article, because it seemed that the midfield was not getting him the crosses that they did against Cameroon. Hopefully, Japan can find a way to get him the ball against Denmark so he can be effective and add to Japan’s goal tally.
Coach Okada: Holland was a strong opponent but we could’ve gotten points from this game and the players gave their best but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We apologize to our fans. But there’s no time to hang our heads. We’ll rest up and then prepare to bring our best against Denmark.
FW Honda: It’s very unfortunate. I felt I could’ve done more and it wasn’t a good day. But I’ll regroup. It wasn’t fun for me today and against Denmark I want to enjoy myself like I did in the first game. I wasn’t overly focused on Holland but I have regained the understanding that my play doesn’t have an effect against an opponent as tough as them. I realized I need to improve my play further.
DF Tulio Tanaka: I thought we played well but that shot by Sneijder was really good and I thought it was amazing that they could score with one chance like that. I have my duties in the back so I didn’t go forward until I had orders from Okada. But when I did go up, I might have created one chance. That’s the difference. We all know that we can’t create many chances so I was always thinking about creating that one chance or scoring that one chance. It’s upsetting, but we still have a game left and we’re looking to get to the next round.
GK Kawashima: I saw Sneijder’s shot all the way up until 30 cm in front of me and I had the image of a save clear in my head so I’m disappointed that I let that goal in. It was a hard shot so I planned to push it outside. But the end was the problem. I knew that if we had more goals allowed it’d become difficult to get through to the next round. After I let that goal in, I knew I had to sacrifice my body and prevent further goals. I’m still upset about the game but as a team we’ll regroup and hopefully make it to the knock-out stages and I want to meet up against Holland one more time.
FW Okazaki: I put a little too much into that. I thought “here it is!” and it went too high. A striker needs to put that ball in. Both games I had chances like that and I need to get it on the frame. If I don’t put these chances in we get results like this. I don’t want it to end like this. I believe the game against Denmark will be the moment of truth. They will come at us and possibly I’ll get into the game early. I know I’ll have a chance for sure and I want to be able to finish it next time.
DF Nagatomo: The match went according to plan. They were not the kind of opponent we needed to lose to. Japan also had chances but that’s the difference between us and the world. Whether we score or don’t score. The chances are few but by scoring or not scoring the match is settled. Seeing Sneijder’s goal, I felt that’s the world’s level. I never felt like I would lose on 1v1s against Kuyt. I don’t think I left him attack much either.
MF Endo: It was a game in which we could've taken one point. It's regretful, but there's no need to hang our heads.
DF Nakazawa: There's no need to look down on this game.