The Netherlands immediately took hold of the game but Japan played cautiously, packing their midfield to prevent the Dutch from cruising forward. Komano got stretched off after only 8 minutes of play. The defender was actually hit on the cheek by Van Persie as the Dutch striker fell on the ground following a push.
For a while, the Japanese had to play with a man down. The Oranje profited of that moment to create chances in attack. Dirk Kuyt executed a marvelous bicycle kick which would have given the Netherlands the lead if it had been better directed. Surprisingly, it was the Japanese who came the closest to score inside the first quarter of an hour with Nagatomo lashing out a powerful low shot from the left side of the penalty area. His ball rolled just near the goal post.
Japan tried to cancel the Netherlands’ flow by intercepting Mark Van Bommel’s passes from the center of the field. The Dutch didn’t seem to have an easy time at all and the game looked more like a midfield battle. Frustration started to grow within the Europeans. Roben Van Persie slapped Nakazawa from behind at a point while Nigel de Jong couldn’t deal with Matsui either and thus gave away a free-kick.
Tanaka wasn’t far away from scoring the game’s opening goal in the 35th minute with a header from the resulting free-kick. Matsui again scared the Dutch with a long range volley which sent the ball into the hands of the Dutch goalkeeper.
Van Persie had a header on target as the second half commenced with the Oranje putting more pressure in attack. It paid off with Wesley Sneijder’s 53rd minute strike. It started with Robin Van Persie laying the ball onto him. The play maker tried his luck from a long distance and though Kawashima had a hand on Sneijder’s ball, the power of his shot was so intense that it resulted in a goal. Japan were forced to be alive from that moment. Quickly after, Okubo tried to emulate the Inter Milan man’s feat, but had no success.
The inclusion of talisman Shunsuke Nakamura at the 64th minute was intended to make a difference for the Japanese. Having been left out of Japan’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, the former Celtic ace was actually getting his first feel of the 2010 World Cup.
Komano initiated a genuine attack on the offensive for the Samurai Blue. His low cross almost deceived the Oranje’s defense but Van der Wiel was in the six yard box to clear the ball out for safety. Coach Bert van Marwijk sent in Eljero Elia as a replacement for Van der Vaart as the Netherlands aimed to push forward in order to kill off the Japanese with a second goal.
Ibrahim Afellay surely should have made it 2-0 five minutes from normal time when he was sent clear on goal. Somehow, he missed from a one-on-one position. Agonizingly, he repeated this horror two minutes later only to pile pressure on himself. Japan could have capitalized on Afellay’s failures when substitute Okazaki fired a shot with his left foot. Disappointingly, his ball flew just over the roof of the goal post as Japan failed to make a late comeback.
Eventually, the Netherlands qualified for the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. They can look at their next match against Cameroon without anxiety. However, Japan will have to fight for the last remaining qualifying spot in Group E when they come up against Denmark next week.