DURBAN, South Africa. – A second-half strike from Wesley Sneijder proved decisive as the Netherlands condemned Japan to a 1-0 defeat in Group E of the World Cup finals on Saturday.
Japan defended valiantly for long stretches at Durban Stadium but had its resistance broken when Inter Milan star Sneijder struck on 53 minutes to make it two wins out of two and put Bert van Marwijk’s men on the brink of the place in the last 16.
Japan’s first defeat leaves it on three points, with Denmark set to meet Cameroon later in the day in Pretoria. Japan wraps up the group stage against the Danes in Rustenburg on Thursday while the Dutch face Cameroon in Cape Town.
“I’m disappointed,” said Japan coach Takeshi Okada. “I hoped we would score so it is a real shame. I don’t know what the outcome of the next game (between Cameroon and Denmark) will be. We just have to try and win our game against Denmark.”
“My players tried ever so hard all over the pitch,” added the 53-year-old coach.
Japan came into the match looking to build on a dream start after Monday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon and also seeking to avenge a 3-0 away defeat in its first-ever meeting with the Dutch in Enschede last September.
Monday’s matchwinner Keisuke Honda started alone up front as Okada named an unchanged side from the one that started against the Indomitable Lions.
Japan was on the back foot in the early stages, but the Netherlands failed to make their domination pay, and Sneijder’s ninth-minute effort sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Yuto Nagatomo fired just wide at the other end and although Japan enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure in the last 10 minutes of the first period, the Blue Samurai were unable to take advantage of a handful of set pieces from promising positions.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka went closest to breaking the deadlock for the Japanese, heading wide at the far post from Yasuhito Endo’s 37th-minute free kick.
The Dutch came out with renewed purpose after the break and Sneijder broke the stalemate.
Tulio’s attempted headed clearance fell to Robin van Persie and the Arsenal star laid the ball back for Sneijder to score with a shot that was too hot for Eiji Kawashima to handle.
Okada threw on Shunsuke Nakamura for Daisuke Matsui midway through the second half in an attempt to give Japan some creative spark and also introduced strikers Keiji Tamada and Shinji Okazaki , but the Japanese were unable to find a way through.
Substitute Ibrahim Afellay nearly snatched a second for the Dutch but was denied by a superb block by Kawashima with five minutes remaining before Okazaki smashed over the bar as the game tiptoed into added time.
“There was a difference in terms of strength but I thought we battled well,” said Honda. “But a defeat is a defeat and we just have to accept it and prepare well for the next match.”