Netherlands 1-0 Japan
Holland maintained their winning start to the World Cup and kept another clean sheet but this was another disappointing display from the Oranje. The traditional image most football fans have of Dutch football is clean and quick passing with plenty of goalscoring opportunities. This image does not yet apply to the Oranje class of 2010. Bert van Marwijk’s side created very little opportunities in front of goal and for the second successive game benefited from a moment of fortune to take the lead.
The first half did little for the imagination. Holland did control possession for long spells and put numerous passes together but the majority of these were uninventive passes across the midfield. The notoriously defensive Takeshi Okada had his side set out to stifle the Dutch as his side successfully managed against Cameroon last week. It is difficult to quantify whether it was the lack of incision from Holland or Okada’s tactics which gave rise to the drab first period.
Nevertheless, there was a surprisingly physical edge to the first half. Yuichi Komano suffering an injury to his jaw after he was caught by the boot of Robin van Persie as the Arsenal striker tumbled to the ground. This instance was just one of a variety of clumsy challenges, with Giovanni van Bronckhorst on the receiving end of a particularly painful looking tackle.
There were no clear chances to report, although strangely Samurai Blue looked the more likely to score before the break. Yoshito Okubo shooting on sight from outside the penalty area, none of his efforts were legitimately threatening however.
It was a frustrating first half for Holland who still seemed to be suffering without the creative intuition of Arjen Robben. The Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder axis had once again failed to impress and was very much a case of failing to amount to the some of two very talented components.
Holland benefited from a bizarre own-goal to take the lead against Denmark and were similarly fortuitous to take the lead against Japan. A poor defensive header from Tulio fell to the feet of the hitherto terrible Robin van Persie. The Arsenal striker rolled a bobbling pass back to Wesley Sneijder who fired a forceful effort towards the right of Eiji Kawashima’s goal. The Japanese goalkeeper flew across goal to attempt a diving save but unfortunately for the Kawasaki Frontale ‘keeper the by now infamous Jabulani football appeared to veer onto his wrists from where it rebounded into the opposite side of the net. Takeshi Okada was visibly irked in the technical area.
Holland failed to threaten to add to their advantage, while Japan’s best hope seemed to be set pieces. Asian footballer of the year Yasuhito Endo fired successive corners into the Dutch penalty area but these crosses were dealt with emphatically by Mathijsen, Heitinga and Van der Wiel.
Okada appeared to recognise that a good delivery could bring Samurai Blue back into contention and sent noted dead-ball specialist Shunsuke Nakamura on as a substitute in search of improved deliveries.
Holland improved marginally in the final ten minutes as substitute Ibrahim Afellay may feel unlucky not to have converted at least one of his two late chances.
With the game approaching stoppage time Japan’s best chance arrived. A looping, high pass was flicked forward to Okazaki who, with only Maarten Stekelenburg to beat, cleared the crossbar with his effort.
The Dutch hung on to secure a second victory in the group stage and move closer to advancement to the Round of 16. Understandably, questions will be levelled at Bert van Marwijk as to why his side have been unable to replicate their scintillating form in the run up to the tournament in South Africa. For many Arjen Robben is paramount. His vitality, inventiveness and dependability should go some way towards improving what has been an insipid tournament from the Oranje so far.