Bendtner an X-factor: Japanese coach
Japan coach Takeshi Okada is predicting a tough encounter against Denmark in the team's final World Cup group match Thursday, especially if Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner is fit to play.
Bendtner hasn't fully recovered from a lingering groin injury, but Okada is still drilling his players on how to shut down the Arsenal striker.
"I think Bendtner will be the key man in their attack," Okada said. "They will fight under his lead."
The match will determine the final team from Group E to advance to the next round. Japan needs at least a draw, while Denmark must win in order to reach the round of 16. Both teams have three points from two matches, but Japan has a better goal difference.
The Netherlands has already advanced and has six points, while Cameroon was eliminated from the tournament Saturday after Denmark beat the African team 2-1.
Denmark coach Morten Olsen views the match against Japan at Royal Bafokeng Stadium as a "final."
"It's a decisive game and hopefully the first final for us," he said. "We know what to do."
But Olsen acknowledged that it will be tough to beat Japan, which defended well in its first two matches. Japan beat Cameroon 1-0 in its first game with a goal by midfielder Keisuke Honda, making it the team's first World Cup victory on foreign soil. Japan also defended well in its second match, but lost 1-0 to the Netherlands.
"It is difficult to score goals nowadays when you play defensive teams," Olsen said.
Okada thinks more than tactics will be needed to win the match, saying he wants Japan "to fight."
"It would be ideal if we can overwhelm the opposition by 10 goals," Okada said. "But it won't be that easy. I think it's going to be a very close, fierce match."
Denmark was on the brink of being eliminated from the World Cup against Cameroon, going a goal down before rallying with goals from Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl. Denmark lost its opening match to the Netherlands 2-0.
Japan did reach the round of 16 as co-hosts at the 2002 World Cup.
"The coach has told us that in life you only get a few opportunities to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup and told us to give it our all," captain Makoto Hasebe said.
The 26-year-old midfielder added the team "will head into the game in a positive frame of mind."
Olsen said Bendtner may not play Thursday or even beyond that if Denmark gets through.
"There are always players who have small problems," Olsen said. "Bendtner is still doubtful for the Japan game, and will continue to be regardless of how far we go in the tournament."
Bendtner himself, however, seems intent on playing. The tall Arsenal forward said Denmark will try to use its height advantage to break down the Japan defence.
"It could well be more difficult than against Cameroon," Bendtner said. "We have to win, so they can play very tactically. But we have a few advantages we can use, including our height."
Olsen said he was "incredibly optimistic" that his team can beat the Japanese after rallying to overcome Cameroon.
"We've shown indications of playing well, and our defence has worked really well," the Denmark coach said. "There are some players who haven't found their form yet, but I have great faith that they can find it."