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Posted by Kentaro Matsuura on 06/25/2010

I still can’t get over it. What a tremendous win for Japan. For the first time in our history we qualify for the knock-out stages on foreign soil, and we do it in style with two wins in a difficult group. Today’s victory against Denmark was extra special in that Japan did what everyone said they could not do - score. With three beautiful goals, Japan ride a tremendous wave of momentum into their round of 16 match vs. Paraguay next Tuesday.

The Calm Before the Storm

There was some question whether Japan would play tentatively for the tie or play aggressively and go for the win. In the first 10 minutes, Japan played quite balanced and Denmark seemed to be controlling the flow of play by putting together quick short passes in the midfield. Denmark were able to get some crosses into the box, but the initial period of the game went without any real chances for either team. Then at around 13 minutes, both sides decided it was time for a fight. Okubo put in a beautiful cross to Matsui, whose shot was saved by the thigh of the Danish GK, then seconds later Matsui sent Hasebe through but the shot went just wide of the goal. In a span of about 30 seconds Japan showed an attacking spirit not seen in months. The Danes were not to be outdone and Tomasson had a near miss that could have easily put the Danes up 1-0 and in the driver’s seat. The Vuvuzelas suddenly began buzzing louder as if to foreshadow the coming goals.

Honda’s Goal

There were rumors in the Japanese press that a Real Madrid scout was coming to the game to take a look at Honda, and that Honda would play extra hard today. Well if the rumors were true, Honda did not disappoint. At 17 minutes, Honda changed the course of Japanese football forever with the most brilliant free kick of the World Cup so far. From over 35 yards out on the right side, Honda struck a no-spin ball over everyone, past the keeper’s outstretched hands, and into the side netting of the far post. The ball seemed to almost dance, wobble and float in the air, and the keeper could not determine which direction it was flying until it was too late. In fact, the shot was not even hit that hard and replays show Honda concentrating on kicking the ball perfectly in the middle rather kicking it with power. We’ve seen so many hard hit free kicks go sailing over the bar in this World Cup, but Honda seems to have figured out the Jabulani.

Endo’s Goal

After the goal, Japan could have again chosen to concentrate on defense but instead they kept attacking. At 30 minutes, Okubo earned a free kick and both Honda and Endo lined up to take the shot from 30 yards out. The wall, full of Denmark’s tall players was probably almost a foot taller than what Endo is used to in the J-league, but Endo saw the opening that GK Sorenson left on the right side of the goal and curled a perfectly placed ball over the wall and into the net. A more traditional goal than Honda’s but just as beautiful. Endo started to run towards the sideline in celebration almost as soon as he hit the ball, realizing how perfectly he had taken this free kick. It used to be that we fans complained that Japan always scored their goals on set pieces, but after seeing these two goals, I’m not sure I could think of a more beautiful way to score.

Beautiful Football

Even after the two goals, Japan continued to attack and both Okubo and Matsui were creating chances and even defenders Tulio Tanaka and Nakazawa went forward on occasion. Nagatomo, the left back also created chances, including a couple times when he dribbled past Danish defenders to create shots on goal for himself. It was an attacking spirit that Japan rarely uses against better teams, and it was pure pleasure to watch. A few weeks back Tulio Tanaka said that the team was incapable of playing beautiful soccer against tougher teams. Honda also talked about Japan probably having only one or two scoring chances in each game this World Cup. But this game proved that when Japan have the spirit and desire, they can attack with the best of them. Funny what a little bit of confidence can do.

Don’t Forget the Defense

As much as Japan attacked, they played a very balanced game in which their defense stood tall against the taller Danish opponents. I had mentioned the “bend but don’t break” defense that Japan had been playing recently in which Japan pull everyone back and, gets bombarded by crosses and shots, and prays for a miracle. In such a defense, both luck and spectacular goal keeping are required to keep a team off the score sheet. But today, Japan was so organized in the back that it never felt like Denmark was creating any dangerous chances. Nakazawa and Tulio Tanaka were impenetrable as they cleared out every high cross that came their way. Nagatomo and Komano on the sides also played well and rarely did the Danes get behind the defense to create dangerous scoring chances

Denmark did score when a penalty kick was awarded to Denmark after what looked to me like a dive. But even on the penalty kick, Japan could gain some positives as Kawashima saved his second straight penalty kick. Although, Tomasson scored the rebound, the victory in that situation belonged to Kawashima.

Nail in the Coffin

And just when you thought that Japan might fall back into a defensive shell and crumble like it did to Australia in 2006 (when Japan let in three goals in the final 5 minutes), Japan istead revved up their offense again and got a third goal with minutes remaining in the game. A beautiful pass from Okubo found Honda, who made a spectacular move to get behind the defense. Honda then made a simple pass to Okazaki who had an easy shot to score. Another beautiful goal - and this time not from a set piece.

The Sun Rises on Japan

It seems that today, Japan grew up and became a real player in World football. Up until today, we had been the team that looked for a lucky goal and tried to hold on for dear life. Luck used to determine whether Japan would score and we used to rely on the woodwork to keep our opponents off the scoresheet. It was a childish, hopeful way of playing football. A commenter on this blog said it best when he described the Japan team as looking like a bunch of 10-year-olds against the Dutch. I’m not sure I totally agree with the comment, but we all know what he meant. But today Japan played like men. We attacked the goal at 0-0, attacked at 1-0, continued to attack at 2-0, and when the game got a little scary at 2-1, we attacked even more. We played the way a team nicknamed after the great Japanese warriors of centuries past should play.

Comments

Posted by ze alan on 06/25/2010

I from malaysia and fan of japanese football.. Once again kentaro, u come out with a good analysis...i believe that incoming game japan can do more attacking football against paraguay..I believe this win also a win to all nation in asia..perhaps, asian football are going into the next level of football. Congratulation from me..

Posted by P-Y in Sendai on 06/25/2010

日本 がんばって!!!!!!!! やった! やった!
It's amazing, I'm a Vegalta supporter but man, Japan is impressing me. The atmosphere is great here. I wish the games wouldn't be at 3:30 am but it's ok
Good analysis!

Posted by Nob Akimoto on 06/25/2010

I have to agree with the idea that we've finally been able to prove to the world that we can play ball. I remember the interview you posted between Honda and Nakata about that missing mental element. I think they've found that last piece because they're certainly playing well.

The most promising sign I think is that they kept attacking even into stoppage time. Heck, Honda almost had a Geoff Hurst like moment where he could have scored in the last 10 seconds of the game. I love watching this team, it's almost like watching a real life version of all the crazily skilled soccer manga teams I religiously followed as a kid.

Posted by Bennett on 06/25/2010

I last commented about how weak physically were when Japan played England. Technically the blue samurais are no where below anyone else. They are just as good. I think they will fare better against Paraguay as they are not as much a physical sides as European teams. Honda has alwiz been good since his days in VVV venzlo. Too bad my team liverpool didn't have the money to buy him at that time.

Was really a good game. Too bad Endo is @ his current peak and 30 years of age, else he would have the chance to entertain us all in European Soccer with his skill.

がんばれ 日本サッカ 青侍

Posted by Morishita-san on 06/25/2010

I think that your analysis is spot on and extremely accurate.

In my opinion, the most impressive part of the game was Japan's swagger when pushing the ball on the offensive - crisp balls into space and strong first touches from the strikers. Even if two of its goals came off of free kicks, there is an important distinction between playing to win and playing to not lose. I look forward to the match against Paraguay and seeing if this team can play like a team that belongs in the knock-out round rather than one that is just happy to be there.

Ganbatte!

Posted by Kei on 06/25/2010

Sublime analysis as always, Kentaro.

I'm not gonna lie, I was having flashbacks to the Collapse in Kaiserslautern after Tomasson bundled in the rebound, but the way we responded shows just how much we've grown up since then. I can't express in words how proud I am of this team right now... just a remarkable performance in a match that absolutely required one.

From no-hopers as recently as two weeks ago, to a surprise package and the dark horses today... the magic of the World Cup is well and truly alive.

Posted by Vincent on 06/25/2010

It was worth every cent to wake up 330am in Japan to watch this amazing game. All the bashing that the team and Okada-kantoku had before the game, all the odds stacked up against them. It just make the moment all that much sweeter to relish. Your analysis just helped me to relive each moment of the game. I am not Japanese but have been living here for 7 years and as my team will never make it to the WC, I have adopted the Japanese team as my own and have been bleeding the blue blood and weeping the blue tears since 5 years ago. My local team is Kawasaki Frontale so it was with tremendous pride to see Kawashima saved both the PKs.

Kudos to Japan and make everyones dream come true in the next game!

Posted by sv on 06/25/2010

yes we did it blue samurai! who said we can't play soccer? all is ours now and nothing can stop us from sailing thru the 2nd round. i was one of the very few that keeps faith with japan well before the world cup started and proved to be true. there is no other team well organized in defense than Japan.

Posted by Carter on 06/25/2010

All Hail Keizer Keisuke!! Only 24 years old, how soon do we see him in the English Premier League?!

Posted by scott on 06/25/2010

Honda is the breakout star of the tournament so far. I do not see him going to a team like Real Madrid (nor do I think that would be a good move) but I definitely think he will likely go to a solid EPL or Seria A side. Somehow Liverpool and Juventus seem like the high-end teams that will be willing to give him a shot.

Also, I am really curious to know how much the J-league pays the other guys. I cannot believe more of them are not playing in Europe.

Posted by ingocha on 06/25/2010

watching play for Japan & Denmark

Posted by Majestrix on 06/25/2010

Japan did it!!!
An extremely accurate analysis as always, by Kentaro.

I would like to see another South Korea vs Japan match in this world cup. But that may not happen unless they both reach finals or fight for 3rd and 4th. Wishing more success for BLUE SAMURAI's.... The Samurais are arriving on world stage with fine style!!!

Posted by Kaolla on 06/25/2010

An incredible achievement for a Japan squad that few believed could get this far.

I really enjoy your match analyses, Kentaro. Keep up the great work.

I fell in love with the F. Marinos while my family was living overseas in Japan, but right now all of my hopes are simply riding on this Japanese squad.

I've watched every game from a bar in Beijing, wearing my Yokohama kit, and the appreciation from the crowd has been touching. I think Japan will be proud to learn how many fans they won with their performance in this World Cup.

I'm hoping that Shinji Okazaki's goal restores his confidence, because he was playing wonderfully in 2009.

This game wasn't full of those nail-biting deflections off of the crossbar. Japan's backs, especially Tulio and Bomber, showed what they could do.

Also, happy birthday to Shunsuke Nakamura; your supporters in Yokohama wish you all the best. :)

Posted by Tetsuka on 06/25/2010

I almost lost my voice yesterday screaming for them. Wonderful goals and contribution made by ALL players on the pitch, not just Honda himself! By the way, I would like to second that Denmark's PK is def. a dive! But nonetheless, Kawashima did a great job by stopping the initial shot.

I just found out that Nakata was there yesterday! He must be very happy to witness that historical moment! (credits to him)

I wish them luck in the next game's preparation! Thanks for all the good analysis Kentaro!

Posted by Masashi on 06/25/2010

It was a good team performance topped up with moments of individual brilliance. Who will ever forget the free kicks that killed the Dane's spirit. The atmosphere was wonderful with all the Japanese supporters and a handful of Danish fans...After the FKs, they look so dejected that they left. Hope it's the chance for the players to strike it out in Europe now.

Posted by sam on 06/25/2010

Unbelievable! (I am writing this with a terrible hangover, and my eyes are still red...)

1) Crucial early 10 minutes. The Danes had no expectations of a contending Japan.

2) The importance of the first goal. Danes were shocked, Japan did their job.

3) Killer second goal. Danes lost hopes, Japan gained the confidence we never saw in the first 2 matches.

4) Monster Tanaka and the guys at the back made things look easy even if we only had about 33% of possession.

5) Honda is an Alien! The assist of the 3rd goal was almost inhuman. Okazaki couldn't believe he had the ball on his feet with the goal at his mercy!


This is history re-painted and the boys did what no one believed they could!

Paraguay is a tough team but they depend a lot on crosses and long passes, much like the Danes. Plan B used in the last match should work just as fine. With dicipline and conviction!

Yattaze Nippon! Thank you for a great exhibition and the pride you brought to our hearts! Banzaaai!

Posted by Debu on 06/25/2010

GNAR!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by eishi asano on 06/25/2010

Amazing game. Thanks for making me so happy!! Eishi Asano

Posted by eishi asano on 06/25/2010

Great game!! Eishi Asano

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About

Kentaro Matsuura was born in Japan and following a move to the USA resorted to following the national team by renting video tapes in Chinatown. Most recently, Kentaro played for and ran the football club at his graduate school, where he studied business. He will join a consulting firm upon graduation.

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