Honda drives Japan into second round
Denmark 1 Japan 3
Friday 25 June 2010
The bleached blonde hair, the yellow boots, the blue gloves and that particular stance when he shapes up to deliver a free-kick: Keisuke Honda has studied all the poses and the coquetry which might make him the Asian Cristiano Ronaldo, and he happens to have some of his qualities, too.
That is the reason Japan find themselves heading through to play Paraguay in the last 16. Honda's 17th-minute goal, direct from a free-kick, set Japan on their way and underlined the CSKA Moscow player's status as one of the stars of the group stage.
Honda's goal is worth lingering on. He struck the ball left-footed with an outswing that sent it swerving beyond Thomas Sorensen's dive. When Japan won a second kick from a more central position 13 minutes after the first, Honda shaped to deliver something similar but at the last moment stood still as Yasuhito Endo ambled up instead and powered it, right-footed, into the opposite corner of the net.
Denmark's profligacy was also useful for Japan. Takesho Okada's defence looks as shaky as any left in the tournament but Nicklas Bendtner was invisible and captain Jon Dahl Tomasson's poor finishing was a key factor in Denmark's defeat.
Denmark still retained hope after Makoto Hasebe's marginal infringement on Daniel Agger gave Denmark a late penalty. Tomasson almost messed that up too, firing at Eiji Kawashima. He scored the rebound but the last image of the night was Honda flummoxing a defender with a delicious drag-back and laying a ball for Shinji Okazaki to make it 3-1.
The Denmark manager, Morten Olsen, who signed a new two-year contract before the tournament, did not assign blame. "If the result is embarrassing then that's what you say. It doesn't matter what I think," he said.
Okada engaged in a bafflingly complex critique of his side's display after the game, but it was Honda who kept things on an emotional level. "I'm happy obviously, but I'm less happy than I expected and I don't know why," he said, engaging from first to last.
Denmark (4-3-3): Sorensen; Jacobsen, Agger, Kroldrup (Larsen, 56), S Poulsen; Jorgensen (J Poulsen, 35), C Poulsen, Kahlenberg (Eriksen, 54); Tomasson, Bendtner, Rommedahl.
Japan (4-1-4-1): Kawashima; Komano, Nakazawa, M T Tanaka, Nagatomo; Abe; Hasebe, Matsui (Okazaki, 76), Endo (Inamoto, 90), Okubo; (Konno, 88) Honda.
Referee J Damon (South Africa).
Man of the match Honda.
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