Free-kick wizards inspire Japan
Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo both struck wonderful free-kicks to help fire Japan into the last 16 of the World Cup at Denmark's expense.
By James Dall
Last Updated: 24/06/10 9:44pm
Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo both struck wonderful free-kicks to help fire Japan into the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup at Denmark's expense.
Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was left stunned twice in the first half as Japan scored two terrific goals in Rustenburg, while Jon Dahl Tomasson's late strike was nothing more than a consolation before Shinji Okazaki sealed a fine night for Japan.
The victory was more than the Japanese needed, with a draw enough for progress, and no more than they deserved as they booked a second round clash against Paraguay.
Denmark were boosted by the availability of striker Nicklas Bendtner following concerns over a lingering groin problem while Per Kroldrup came in for the suspended Simon Kjaer and Thomas Kahlenberg replaced Jesper Gronkjaer. Japan coach Takeshi Okada named an unchanged line-up for the third straight game.
The opening exchanges were played at a decent tempo, with Denmark the more assertive as they pushed for their imperative three points. And they half-threatened during the first 10 minutes as Tomasson could not adjust before Kroldrup diverted wide from a corner.
On 12 minutes, Daisuke Matsui went into the book for time-wasting. Then it was Japan's turn to attack. A wonderful cross by Yoshito Okubo was just hooked away by Sorensen's knee and seconds later Makoto Hasebe was cleverly slid through on goal but fired just past the angle.
Denmark were quick to respond when Tomasson saw a curling effort zip a yard wide of the far post. However, in the 17th minute the Danes were stunned. Honda ambitiously took on a free-kick from distance and saw his left-footed bending strike whistle past Sorensen, who initially stepped the wrong way and was ultimately left grasping at thin air.
Morten Olsen's side's reaction was for Christian Poulsen to pick out Tomasson only for the forward's stretch to be turned away by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Then came two further yellow cards, one for Yuto Nagatomo, again the reason time-wasting, and another for Kroldrup, whose booking would prove costly.
Indeed, on 30 minutes, Kroldrup's trip on Okubo presented Japan with another free-kick opportunity. Honda looked the favourite to strike considering what had gone before, but up trotted Endo, who beautifully curled the ball over the wall and into the corner.
Head coach Olsen acted swiftly after seeing his side go two goals down as he hauled off Martin Jorgensen for Jakob Poulsen. But Olsen's side were still reeling from Japan's two strokes of the boot, and Japan finished the half the far stronger as Okada's team oozed confidence in Rustenburg.
A noticeably rattled Sorensen then had a heart-in-mouth moment just three minutes into the second period. After Christian Poulsen fouled and was carded, Endo curled a ball goalwards from just a little way inside Denmark's half. And Sorensen remained planted, only fumbling the ball onto the post and then gathering at the last moment.
Tomasson then had two opportunities to hand Denmark a lifeline but he initially could not get on the end of a Dennis Rommedahl cross before his first touch let him down following a Bendtner flick-on. In the 56th minute, Olsen threw caution to the wind, bringing on striker Soren Larson for defender Kroldrup.
The 18-year-old Christian Eriksen entered the fray in place of Kahlenberg, whose last input was a stinging drive which drew a decent stop from Kawashima. And the World Cup's youngest player almost made an impact when he arrowed a long-range volley just over the crossbar.
Another substitute, Larsen, then thundered a vicious effort off the crossbar before, with 10 minutes remaining, Denmark were awarded a penalty. Hasebe's clumsy push on Daniel Agger was penalised, and Tomasson equalled Poul Nielsen's all-time goalscoring record, although only just as he stabbed in the rebound after his spot-kick was saved by Kawashima.
Yet despite Denmark huffing and puffing for a leveller, Japan stood firm. Indeed, the Japanese were excellent, committed until the end and particularly impressive as they won header after header. And they put the icing on the cake when substitute Okazaki tapped into an empty net.