RUSTENBERG, South Africa | First-half free kick goals from Keisuke Honda and Yusuhito Endo helped give Japan a 3-1 win over Denmark on Thursday and send the Asian country into the round of 16 of the World Cup.
The Danes replied in the 81st when Jon Dahl Tomasson tapped in the rebound from his own penalty kick, but Shinji Okazaki slotted into an empty net in the 87th to seal the win.
Japan took a 2-0 lead after goals from free kicks within a space of less than 15 minutes as the Japanese collected their second victory in Group E. They ended in second place on six points compared with three for Denmark.
The Japanese reached the knockout round for the second time, and will meet Paraguay. They also progressed in 2002 when they were co-hosts, but missed out in two other editions.
“For Japan it’s a big win,” Honda said. “I’m glad we won but I am not satisfied. The next game is more important. I want to show the Japanese that nothing is impossible.”
Denmark failed to advance from the group stage for the first time in four World Cup appearances.
Honda got his and Japan’s second goal of the tournament in the 17th with a blistering free kick from the right of the Danish area which went over the wall and swerved beyond Thomas Sorensen’s reach into the far corner. The Danish goalkeeper seemed fooled by the dipping swerve, diving late and failing to get his hands on the ball.
Endo’s free kick was from directly in front of the Danish goal and he curled his shot around the wall. Despite leaping to his left, Sorensen couldn’t get to it.
“The way the whole match progressed was decided on the two set pieces when they scored the two goals,” Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. “We knew which two players were going to take the free kicks. We prepared, but it didn’t help.”
Denmark was awarded a penalty when Makoto Hasebe brought down Daniel Agger. Tomasson hit the ball at Eiji Kawashima but the goalkeeer couldn’t hold it and the Danish captain tapped in the rebound.
Honda tormented the Danish defense with his tight dribbling before passing sideways for Okazaki, a substitute, to put the result beyond Denmark’s reach.
The final group match decided the second team to advance, as the Netherlands had already ensured progression. The Dutch beat Cameroon 2-1 in the other group game for its third win and took top spot.
Japan opened its group campaign with a 1-0 win over Cameroon, when Honda also found the net, before losing 1-0 to the Netherlands.
Japan, using the same starting lineup for the third straight game, was the shrewder team at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium where Denmark needed a win to stay in the tournament.
The Japanese defended stoutly against Denmark’s high-ball tactics while making their own advantages in pace and agility tell by forcing the Danes to commit fouls around their penalty box.
“Prior to the match, the coach said we shouldn’t concentrate on the defense and that we should attack,” Honda said. “That’s what the coach told the players to boost our motivation. It was really effective and led to this wonderful result.”
From the outset the Danes looked to profit from their considerable height advantage, hitting frequent crosses from the flanks for forward pair Nicklas Bendtner and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
The industrious Japanese defense mostly crowded out the Denmark attack, though, while the pace of Hasebe and Honda was a constant threat for the Danish defense.
The Danes soon ran out of ideas going forward and became bogged down in midfield.
Three minutes after the restart, Endo almost extended Japan’s lead from another free kick, floating a long shot towards Sorensen, who was too far off his line and failed to grab the ball which bounced off the post.
Bendtner, starting his third straight game despite a lingering groin injury, and Tomasson, who has also been carrying a hamstring problem, probed forward but lacked a clinical touch inside the box. The Danes had 19 shots on goal to Japan’s 15.
Denmark coach Morten Olsen brought on forward Soren Larsen and midfielder Christian Eriksen but the busy Japanese forward line meant the Danes also had to be cautious.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.