Sneijder fails to silence Dutch critics

Holland 1 Japan 0: The 'Oranje' purists want more despite Holland becoming the first side to qualify for the last 16 by beating a stubborn Japan
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The Independent Football

This game only caught light 30 minutes after the final whistle in Durban when Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach, was involved in an angry exchange with Dutch journalists.

Holland had won by a solitary goal, Wesley Sneijder's powerful 53rd-minute strike ending Japan's doughty resistance. It took Holland to the top of Group E and after Cameroon's defeat to Denmark, they became the first team to qualify for the last 16.

That seemed pretty impressive from an English viewpoint (and probably from a Spanish, French, Italian and German one too), but in the land of total football winning is not enough. Van Marwijk was informed that viewers back home had deluged the media with text messages asking why the game was so boring, why the Dutch kept passing sideways, why they did not score more goals.

The answer is that it takes two teams to play an entertaining game. Japan, their coach Takeshi Okada admitted, had come for a point. While they were prepared to push forward on the flanks, as soon as they lost possession they retreated inside their own half, presenting the Dutch with a 10-man wall of white. Having seen what happened to Spain on this ground against Switzerland, Holland were not about to take risks to penetrate it.

Thus Van Marwijk's brusque response: "All you want is beautiful football, 5-0 at half-time, but at this level you cannot score immediately. You have to understand the difference. It is the World Cup. The guys like to win with beautiful football but we have to deal with an opposing team that is well organised, that knows everything about us – there are no secrets now.

"At this level no match is straightforward. Look at Germany, Spain, England and France. The same applies to us. Everyone thinks it is straightforward and easy but Japan have been together a long time. They were excellently organised. I enjoyed watching Spain, but they lost 1-0. Barcelona lost the Champions' League semi-final against Inter. My sympathy is with Barcelona. I love that football but as I told the team when I became coach two years ago, we have to be prepared to win ugly games too. We are playing to win, if we play beautiful football too, that is fine."

Such is the credo for most modern coaches. This was confirmed after Sneijder scored. The Dutch immediately drew up the wagons and Japan finally opened up. They then looked a tidy side with an impressive pair of full-backs but a lack of punch in attack. They also very nearly snatched a point, the substitute Shinji Okazaki shooting just over in the final seconds after Joris Mathijsen had been caught ball-watching. The Dutch should have been safe by then, but another substitute, Ibrahim Afellay, missed two late chances after being put through by Eljero Elia and then Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. He was denied both times by Eiji Kawashima which will give the goalkeeper some succour as he ponders Sneijder's goal.

Kawashima yesterday joined the Jabulani victims, beaten from 20 yards despite appearing to get both hands behind the ball. It was hard to tell whether player or ball was at fault and Japan's coach, fitting all the clichés about inscrutable men of the East, was in no mood to clarify matters. "It was a good shot and we did not really expect not to concede against such an opponent. It was really a good shot," he said when asked whether ball or goalkeeper was to blame.

There was also a third party at fault. Sneijder received the ball after Tulio Tanaka, the Japanese centre-half, had headed Gio van Bronckhorst's cross straight to Robin van Persie, who fed Sneijder.

The Dutch were reluctant to play risky passes and prior to Sneijder's strike, Kawashima had been required only to make two regulation saves.

"It is not easy to win matches here, but we deserved to win this one," said Sneijder. "In the first two matches we have done a great job."

Attendance: 62,010

Referee: Hector Baldassi (Argentina)

Man of the match: Van Bommel

Match rating: 6/10