Saturday, June 19, 2010
Although Arjen Robben had declared himself fit to play, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, pressumably on the advice of his medical team, decided to put him on the bench against Japan. His time to shine in the World Cup will hopefully come later in the tournament. So we enjoyed the same starting eleven as our first game.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada was gushing in his praise for the Dutch prior to kickoff: "We will be playing against a wonderful team, which is one of the favourites for the title. We realise this is a sophisticated team but we believe we have a chance to win. We shouldn't feel small even though they have great name players in the team." The first half of the match can be summed up with the 'f' word – frustration! It soon became clear that Mr Okada had told his men to play a defensive game and prevent Ollanda from playing a normal game, in the hope of getting at least a draw. The Dutch had around 70 percent of the possession, and there were some neat passes, but every time they managed to get into the final third, they were crowded out by the Japanese. The few chances that the Japanese created were all from free kicks, but each time the ball floated high and wide over the crossbar and provided no threat to Stekelenburg’s goal.
The longer the first half went on, the more obvious it became that Ollanda needed either Elia or Robben, or both, to provide some width that would help them get behind the Japanese defenders. A Dutch goal would force the Japanese to adopt more positive tactics. From their point of view, the first half went just the way they had hoped it would. For the rest, it was a bore draw.
Fortunately for Ollanda and all the neutrals watching, the breakthrough came eight minutes after the re-start. A cross from the left wasn’t cleared properly by the Japanese, and Robin van Persie found Wesley Sneijder at the edge of the box. Sneijder hit a powerful shot, and the Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima put two hands out to push the ball away, but misjudged the flight of the the ball and it went beyond him into the net.
Coach Bert van Marwijk made the same two substitutions he had made in the first game, bringing on Elia for Van der Vaart about 20 minutes from the end, then Ibrahim Afellay for goalscorer Wesley Sneijder. The Japanese had a few short spells of pressure in the second half, but Ollanda weathered the storm. In the last minute of normal time, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar came on for Robin van Persie. Ibrahim Afellay could have scored twice in the closing minutes, but on both occasions he was denied by the onrushing Japanese keeper Kawashima.
So Ollanda have six points out of six in two opening matches, and are on the verge of qualification for the last 16. Like the first match against Denmark, this one will not live long in the memory, largely due to Japan’s negative tactics. But we have done enough, and will be much more relaxed in their next game than several of our near-neighbours in Europe who still have a lot of work to do. And we are not yet playing anywhere near their best! Even without Our Babes!