Anyone see this coming? Thought not. Japan were absolutely brilliant last night, thoroughly outclassing Denmark with a spirited team effort, some outstanding individual performances and two of the best goals of the tournament so far. Defying expectations they progress from the group stages for only the second time – and their first away from home soil – and meet Paraguay in the round of sixteen.
Before this match, World Cup 2010 had only seen one goal scored from a direct free kick, and it was a bit rubbish. Japan scored two, and they really, really weren’t.
Keisuke Honda went first, his left footed, dipping drive from 30 yards out on the right hand side that flew straight as an arrow inside the far post. Yasuhito Endo followed on the half hour mark with a free kick in a more central position. The Danish defence could be forgiven for expecting Honda to take it again but Endo ran up first and definitely did not step over the ball to leave it for his teammate. Rather, he curled a right foot shot round the wall that went low inside Thomas Sorensen’s left hand post.
Denmark pressed and pressed but could not find a way through a resolute Japanese defence until the 81st minute. John Dahl Tomasson pulled one back, scoring from the rebound of a penalty he himself had seen saved after Daniel Agger had been felled in the box.
Keisuke Honda was man of the match and he rounded off an excellent performance by setting up Japan’s third. He jinked outside his man then cut the ball square to Shinji Okazaki, who couldn’t miss from close range.
This was a fine, thoroughly surprising performance from a limited Japanese side who will pose Paraguay plenty of problems. Denmark head home after a disappointing campaign, only emerging from the victory over Cameroon with any credit.