World Cup post-game: Japan 3, Denmark 1
Japan is through to the second round of the FIFA World Cup following a convincing 3-1 win over Denmark on Thursday in Rustenburg, South Africa.
Keisuke Honda and Yusuhito Endo both scored spectacular free-kick goals for Japan, which finished second in Group E and booked its spot in the Round of 16.
In the other group game Thursday, the Netherlands wrapped up first place and a second-round berth with a 2-1 win against Cameroon in Cape Town.
Consistency — that has been the trademark of Japan's World Cup campaign thus far.
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And it may not be very exciting or sexy, but it has paid off huge dividends for the Japanese.
For the third straight time at this tournament, Japanese coach Takeshi Okada fielded the exact same starting lineup, resisting the temptation to tinker after his team's 1-0 loss to the Dutch.
And for the third straight time, Okada's side was the very model of consistency when it took the field — defensively sound, well organized and workmanlike in midfield, and able to produce a few moments of pure class in the attack against the Danes.
This time it was Honda and Endo who provided the inspiration, scoring highlight-reel goals that would be the envy of such notable free-kick specialists as David Beckham and Alessandro Del Piero.
Honda's early strike set Japan on course for the second round, and his killer pass in setting up Shinji Okazaki's goal in the 87th minute, just moments after the Danes scored to make it a one-goal game, sealed the win for the Asians.
What this result means
The Netherlands wins Group E with nine points, ahead of Japan (six points), Denmark (three points) and Cameroon (zero points).
The Dutch will meet Slovakia, the runner-up from Group F, in the next round, while Japan faces Group F winner Paraguay.
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Goal of the match
After Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen committed a foul in the 17th minute, Honda, who plays for Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, lined up behind the ball for the free kick. Without a trace of hesitancy, he confidently curled a stupendous shot from 30 yards out, past Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, that nestled just inside the post.
The early goal swung the momentum firmly in the favour of the Japanese, who capitalized on it a mere 13 minutes later when Endo scored off a free kick that was every bit as brilliant as Honda's effort. Game over for the Danes.
Man of the match
Honda demonstrated why Europe's top clubs are beating a path to CSKA Moscow's door to try to lure him away, scoring one goal and setting up another.
The Japanese perspective
"For Japan it's a big win. 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." — winger Keisuke Honda
The Danish perspective
"The way the whole match progressed was decided on the two set pieces when they scored the two goals. We knew which two players were going to take the free kicks. We prepared, but it didn't help." — coach Morten Olsen