Dutch progress and seek sparkle from Robben's impending return
Holland 1 Japan 0
Monday 21 June 2010
Two years ago Holland wowed the world as they began Euro 2008 with stunning victories over France and Italy. But they watched the final on television after being knocked out by Russia.
This time their players insisted, after becoming the first team to secure a place in the second round of the World Cup, it will be different. Their slim, but generally comfortable, defeat of Japan in Durban on Saturday, coupled with Cameroon's evening loss to Denmark, ensured the Dutch would progress while many of their rivals stutter.
Nevertheless, the manner of their victory was criticised by the Dutch media. With Japan pulling everyone behind the ball, large parts of the match consisted of the Holland back four passing sideways.
Dirk Kuyt, the Liverpool striker, was unrepentant. "The result is the most important thing," he said. "We know we have a lot of attacking talent so it is disappointing we haven't scored more goals but the two teams we've played [they beat Denmark 2-0 in their opening game] have been very defensive. It's difficult to get through them."
Two factors suggest the Dutch will continue to improve. One is the impending return of Arjen Robben. "Arjen is close to fitness now," said Dutch captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. "He trained with us on Friday, he looks very good and feels good." Robin van Persie should also gain in match sharpness as the campaign goes on.
For Japan, the tournament now comes down to a shoot-out with Denmark in Rustenberg on Thursday. A draw will take Takeshi Okada's side through to the second round for the first time on foreign soil. The danger is they will play for a draw, but they showed enough, after going behind to Wesley Sneijder's 20-yard, 53rd-minute drive, to suggest they should do more than just invite pressure.
Holland (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst; Van Bommel, De Jong; Kuyt, Sneijder (Affelay, 83), Van der Vaart (Elia, 72); Van Persie (Huntelaar, 88).
Japan (4-5-1): Kawashima; Komano, Nakazawa, Tanaka, Nagatomo; Matsui (Nakamura, 64), Hasebe (Tamada, 77), Abe, Endo, Okubo (Okazaki, 77); Honda.
Referee: H Baldassi (Argentina).
Man of the match: Van Bommel.
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