Japan's free spirits stun Denmark to seal progress
NEVER mind the Blue Samurai this was the Blue Brazil (with due deference to Cowdenbeath of course) as Japan put Denmark to the sword. They were razor-sharp, they were spectacular and they will now face Paraguay in the last 16. Maybe their apparently vain boast of reaching the semi-finals is not so absurd.
Goals direct from free-kicks have been at a premium in this tournament and here were two of the highest quality inside 45 minutes. They use the Jabulani ball in the J-League and the way in which it was manipulated by Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo showed an expertise other countries have lacked.
Honda plays his football in Russia, for CSKA Moscow, however, and as a makeshift centre-forward, with that unmistakeable dyed hair he is emerging as one of the stars of the World Cup. The way in which he dipped his 35-yard effort to beat Thomas Sorensen was straight out of the Cristiano Ronaldo hand-book.
Japan weren't finished there. Soon after and Endo, from 30 yards, curled right-footed around the wall with Sorensen rooted. That appeared to put an Endo to the contest. It also meant Denmark had conceded probably the best goal of the tournament so far. They were certainly punch-drunk. The Danes had to win to progress from Group E and having carved out opportunities in the opening minutes, through Jon Dahl Tomasson, they were all but out.
Little wonder they were sent back early for the second-half. It had been desperate for them with Nicklas Bendtner a disgruntled spectator. But Endo wasn't finished. This time it was more than 45 yards out and he tried to beat Sorensen with another free-kick. The goalkeeper misjudged it and, embarrassingly, fumbled the ball onto the post. Japan continued to press, endlessly closing down the, by now, desperate Danes who threw on more strikers.
Pot-shots came in from distance, fielded by Eiji Kawashima, who also saved bravely from Tomasson, before the striker miscued with a clear sight at goal. But Denmark then got a break. Moments after Soren Larsen had crashed a spectacular half-volley against the bar, Daniel Agger was bundled over by Makoto Hasebe.
He fell easily. It looked harsh and Tomasson's penalty lacked conviction, and was parried, but he forced the rebound into the net. Japan responded. The brilliant Honda worked his way through, with a superb flick, to tee up Shinji Okazaki and he side-footed home. Sayonara Denmark. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Denmark -- Sorensen, Jacobsen, Agger, Kroldrup (Larsen 56), Simon Poulsen, Jorgensen (Jakob Poulsen 34), Christian Poulsen, Kahlenberg (Eriksen 63), Tomasson, Rommedahl, Bendtner.
Japan -- Kawashima, Komano, Nakazawa, Tanaka, Nagatomo, Hasebe, Matsui (Okazaki 76), Abe, Endo (Inamoto 90), Okubo (Konno 89), Honda.
REF -- J Damon (South Africa).