Group E concluded with the Netherlands topping the group with Japan finishing runners-up after Denmark lost a must-win game that see’s them eliminated and failing to progress from the World Cup group stages for the first time in their history.
Denmark and Japan clashed in Rustenburg tonight with Morten Olsen’s Denmark side needing all three points to progress to the last 16 stage of the World Cup.
Denmark began the match as the brighter of the two teams as they displayed fluent passing and made it difficult for Japan to gain possession.
12 minutes of Danish dominance would pass before the game’s first opportunity and it fell to Japan when Makoto Hasebe was played through on goal but couldn’t steer his shot on target as it flew wide.
Denmark were asked questions and Jon Dahl Tomasson came within inches of an answer as he curled his short narrowly wide from an acute angle.
Denmark conceded a free-kick 34 yards from goal in the 17th minute and what followed stunned spectators. Keisuke Honda’s confidence in his ability was evident as he lined up a shot and his effort flew into the net past Thomas Sorenson who’s positioning was questionable.
Denmark looked for an immediate reply when Christian Poulsen played an over-the-top ball for Jon Dahl Tomasson but the veteran striker could not get the touch that was needed to equalise.
On the half-hour Per Kroldrup was the first Dane to be booked as he conceded a free-kick 25 yards from goal which he would regret. Yasuhito Endo stood over the ball as Honda looked poised to strike the ball as had done thirteen minutes previous but in a clever training-ground move Endo reacted quickly after the whistle and bent a superb free-kick around the wall past Sorenson who this time was blameless.
Jakob Poulsen was introduced on 34 minutes in place of Martin Jorgensen as Morten Olsen looked for his Danish side to score that all-important 3rd goal of the game before the half-time whistle but the whistle came first as Denmark went into the break knowing a drastic improvement was needed for the second-half.
Denmark arrived out for the second-half five minutes before their opponents and Morten Olsen’s halftime talk was very nearly wasted when a Thomas Sorenson error almost gifted Japan a third three minutes after the restart. Denmark conceded a free-kick on the halfway line which Yasuhito Endo over-hit and Thomas Sorenson fumbled a simple catch which he redirected against his own post before Matsui blasted the rebound over the bar.
Denmark looked to be developing a foothold with Jon Dahl Tomasson coming close after Nicklas Bendtner flicked it on but Tomasson’s touch was heavy as his shot flew past the post and Thomas Kahlenberg’s powerful long-range drive was pushed away by Eiji Kawashima.
Second-half substitute Soren Larsen came closest for Denmark in the 79th minute when he controlled with his chest before turning well and firing a superb volley off the crossbar.
Moments after Larsen’s effort Denmark were awarded a penalty after Daniel Agger was bundled over in the area after a push from Japan captain Makoto Hassebe. Jon Dahl Tomasson made amends for several missed opportunities earlier in the game as he fortuitously converted the rebound after he saw his penalty saved by Eiji Kawashima. Tomasson’s goal equalled Denmark’s all-time goalscoring record, little consolation to Tomasson who knew his side would have to score twice in the remaining ten minutes or Denmark would be heading home.
Denmark had two penalty appeals waved away by the referee before Japan sealed the victory when Shinji Okazaki completed the scoring for Japan in the dying minutes after superb individual work from Honda who had turned Dennis Rommedahl which left him one-on-one with Thomas Sorenson before showing great awareness and unselfishly pulled it back for Okazaki to tap home.
Defeat for Denmark means they are eliminated and have failed to progress from the World Cup group stages for the first time in their history while victory for Japan sends them through to the last 16 where Paraguay await them.
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