So, in brief: Denmark must win. Japan can draw.
In a bit more depth: Denmark were disappointing against Holland, and then poor again against Cameroon until Dennis Rommedahl decided he was Jairzinho, perhaps the most unlikely event in this most improbable of World Cups. But that 2-1 win alone won't do: they must follow it up with more of the same against an impressive Japan side. As their coach Morten Olsen said: "Both teams have fought hard to get to this party – the World Cup is a party – and when we are here, we must have ambitions."
So must the Danes have ambitions because they fought hard to get here, or because it's a party? I'm guessing that Olsen is a uniquely ambitious party guest. I'm picturing Olsen listing the night's ambitions to himself in front of a mirror before departing to soirées. "Right, it's Mike's annual fancy dress do. I want to get there by eight, impress everyone with my hand-made gorilla suit, win the costume-of-the-night award, pick all the cashews out of the mixed nuts and be out of there by half past 10." That kind of stuff.
As for Takeshi Okada, "we have to score," he says (which could easily be one of Olsen's party ambitions, really). "I told the players that we should not think about any draw," he added. So that means we're in for some damn fine excitement, then.
In other news, according to a survey by the Danish postal service, more Danes would like to get a postcard from Daniel Agger than any other player.
The big pre-match question was: Will Nicklas Bendtner be fit?
The big pre-match answer is: Yes he will!
Denmark: Sorensen, Jacobsen, Agger, Kroldrup, Simon Poulsen, Jorgensen, Christian Poulsen, Kahlenberg, Tomasson, Rommedahl, Bendtner. Subs: The rest of 'em. Japan: Kawashima, Komano, Nakazawa, Tanaka, Nagatomo, Hasebe, Matsui, Abe, Endo, Okubo, Honda. Subs: Everybody else. Referee: Jerome Damon (South Africa).
Suspension update: Also, Simon Kjaer – the Danish centre-back who contributed to their comeback against Cameroon with probably the pass of the tournament to release Rommedahl before their first goal – is suspended. Fiorentina's Per Kroldrup, who Everton fans may remember with a shudder, replaces him. "As a Fiorentina fan, I am intimately familiar with his epic fail as a centre-back," writes Angharad. Apparently he's known as "The Krolmonster". Be afraid, be very afraid.
And out come the teams! That's all I've got to add at this point, really.
Danish anthem-singing: 6/10 really. Everyone's singing, but none of them with any particular gusto.
Japanese anthem-singing: 5/10. A couple of them a barely even moving their lips, and as for the coach, well...
1 min: Peeeep! And they're off!
3 min: Steve Wilson hails Denmark's "tremendous World Cup pedigree". This is presumably based on the fact that they have never failed to progress past the first round, on any of the four occasions (out of 14 attempts) they have actually qualified. They have, though, had the first shot of the game. If the goal tripled in size, it still wouldn't have been on target.
5 min: A testy opening. Denmark have had the majority of possession, and on their three forays forward have so far overhit a shot, a cross and a through-ball, one each.
6 min: "That Japanese national anthem was actually written by a guy from my hometown, Cork," reports Josef O'Shea. "His name was John William Fenton and his story was a bit like that of the Tom Cruise character in that terrible Last Samurai movie. Only with a violin rather than a rifle and far less scientology."
7 min: Poulsen's cross takes a deflection and looks like it will drop perfectly for Jon Dahl Tomasson, but he tries an ambitious overhead, about six yards out, and it all goes a bit wrong.
9 min: "Surely a liberal, cosmopolitan paper like the Guardian should be above such petty nationalism as anthem singing?" complains Franckie. Hey, if they're going to sing 'em I'm going to mark 'em.
11 min: The referee, a South African, is running around the pitch telling people to get up. Poulsen goes down at the edge of Japan's penalty area and gets nothing. Japan break, Honda eventually going down on the right touchline. He gets nothing either. Both definitely fouled, Poulsen in a very tasty location.
12 min: Eventually Japan do get a free-kick, and the referee promptly books Yasuhito Endo for time-wasting before he takes it.
13 min: Incredibly lucky save! Yoshito Okubo floats in a nice ball from the left, Matsui gets on the end of it and sends it goalwards but it just clips Thomas Sorensen's knee and deflects to safety.
14 min: Japan miss another decent chance (sorry for the lack of coverage of that one) before Tomasson is played in down the left side of Japan's penalty area and rolls a low, lazy shot across goal and just – just, though – wide of the far post. Wide open spaces at both ends, promisingly.
GOAL! FREE-KICK OF THE TOURNAMENT SO FAR! Denmark 0 Japan 1 (Honda, 17)Keisuke Honda, 30 yards out, sends a left-foot shot arcing perfectly into the far corner. Sorensen took a decisive half-step to his left before flinging himself, in vain, to his right. You could blame the keeper if you like, but it's one hell of a strike.
21 min: Ross Bremner in New York had just mailed concerning the players' problems controlling the Jabulani, but it does seem like they've got the hang of it – Honda's strike is decent evidence, but Fabio Quagliarella's brilliant effort for Italy earlier pretty much definitively proves it's possible.
22 min: Excellent chance for Denmark! Christian Poulsen dinks the ball into the penalty area; Tomasson reaches it, but then misses it.
24 min: One highlight so far is Bendtner's hilarious last-moment high-speed back-stick arrivals whenever Denmark have a corner – none of which has gone anywhere near him. I've not noticed it in Denmark's previous matches.
26 min: Another Japanese player booked for time-wasting, this time Yuto Nagatomo, who dallied over a throw-in midway into his own half.
28 min: "Just wondering if you, or any or your MBMers, know what the black 'webbing', for want of a better word, is on the back of Hasebe's jersey, the Japanese No17?" asks Joe Buggy. "I saw Malouda and some of the other French players sporting such gimickery also." I've no idea. Anyone?
28 min: Denmark still having most of the possession, but Japan working like busy little bees to stop any of it from being particularly useful. The upshot is lots of people trying to play in their strikers with ambitious 50-yard passes.
29 min: Kroldrup booked for quite cynically pulling Honda back, 20 yards from goal. Another wonderstrike in store?
GOAL! ANOTHER EXCELLENT FREE-KICK! Japan 2 Denmark 0! (Yasuhito Endo, 30) Everyone assumes Honda's going to have another pop, but instead Endo steps up and curls it beautifully over the wall and into the far corner with his right foot.
32 min: "The black webbing is Adidas' Tech Fit Power Web, as anybody would know who followed yesterday's Germany v Ghana," snarks Radbert Grimmig.
34 min: "Shame to see Thomas Sorenson getting beat around like this," writes William Agger, as Denmark prepare their first substitution. "He's always been one of my favorite goalkeepers in the English game, mostly because he looks like Val Kilmer. Guess that's not enough now, is it?"
34 min: Martin Jorgensen is coming off for yet another Poulsen, Jakob this time.
36 min: Denmark's primary concern will be maintaining their optimism. They've been incredibly unlucky that, having had much less of the ball, Japan have curdled in their two shootable free-kicks in the first half-hour. It can't have been Japan's gameplan. If it was, it wasn't much of one.
39 min: Robin Van Persie has scored for Holland. "Am I right that yellow cards don't reset until after the quarterfinals?" asks Jonathan Francis. I don't think you are, Jonathan – isn't it after the round of 16? Anyway, do go on. "If so, then two bookings in five matches results in a suspension, right? Why does FIFA not realize that we want to see the best players play, not sit on the bench because an overly-sensitive referee thinks taking an extra five seconds over a throw is grounds for a booking?"
40 min: Another Japan free-kick! No idea what it was for, we were watching some highlights instead of the match, for some reason. Ruddy miles out, mind.
41 min: A rubbish cross, as it turns out. They don't get them all right.
42 min: Japan swing in a cross from the right, which Yoshito Okubo tries to slam home with a glorious scissor-kick. He gets nowhere near the ball, of course, but it's tricks 'n' flicks time for the Japanese now, isn't it?
44 min: Christian Poulsen has a decent shot on target, though given that he took it from about 50 yards out the keeper had time to have a sandwich before catching it.
44 min: Full-back Yuichi Komano breaks into the area and slams in a high shot from a sharp angle that's tipped over the bar.
45 min: "How can you talk about Val Kilmer look-alikes without mentioning Sergio Ramos?" asks Charles Cameron Dunn, the second vote for Ramos on the Kilmerlike front.
45+1 min: Japan are "almost on another planet tonight", says Martin Keown. As I've said before, they're a bit lucky to have produced two wonderstrikes but their work rate has been very impressive, and with the Danes feeling pretty unhappy they look like running away with it now.
45+2 mins: Peeep! That's half-time then folks. Denmark have a lot of work to do in the next quarter-hour, I'd say.
An email! "Nothing wrong with a gameplan that relies on scoring from free-kicks. It got England to the 2002 World Cup," says Mark Gillies. True enough, Mark, true enough.
Another email! Jonathan Francis was right – the yellow card amnesty only kicks in after the quarter-finals.
The pundits add: Sorensen's getting a bit of a rollicking for imperfectly lining up the wall ahead of Japan's second free-kick. True, they stuck a short lad on the end and could have done with taking a couple of steps to their left, but I think the free-kick would have gone over them anyway.
Yet another email! "As an Asian myself, i'm a little offended when you considered Japan's two wonder goals as lucky," writes Pangeran Siahaan. Just to be clear: the goals weren't lucky at all, they were brilliant, but it's a bit lucky to hit two brilliant free-kicks. Anyway: "I believe you never watch the legendary anime Captain Tsubasa. In that cartoon, they score goals like that on daily-basis." I have never heard of said cartoon, I must admit. In other news, the players are back out.
46 min: Peeeep! They're off! Again! Denmark apparently came out five minutes early for the second half. I'm not sure what the significance of that is, but there must be one.
48 min: Japan hit the post with another free-kick! From about 60 yards! It was just an overhit cross from Yasuhito Endo, but Sorensen doesn't move an inch until it's right on top of him and he pushes it, desperately, onto a post.
49 min: "Always thought actress Nancy McKeon of 1970s-1980s US sitcom The Facts of Life was the classic Val Kilmer look-a-like," writes Noah. Denmark have a chance to shoot from a free-kick, and Bendtner hits it into the wall.
51 min: "Dodgy watches," moots Peter McGushin of Denmark's early reappearance. "That would never happen to the Swiss."
51 min: Rommedahl crosses from the right, Tomasson, Bendner and Thomas Kahlenberg queue up at the back stick to miss it. Bentner's not really trying, to be honest. He's either injured, lazy, or bobbins.
53 min: Denmark really are giving it a go, heaving any number of crosses into the box and hoping that Tomasson will make one of them look good. We're still waiting for that.
55 min: But Japan are looking pretty classy, it must be said. Daisuke Matsui shone in the first half, but they've got some talent. Denmark bring Soren Larsen on for Per Kroldrup, a striker for a defender. At this stage, why not?
59 min: Thomas Kahlenberg has a crack from 25 yards. Not a bad crack either, but the keeper shovels it away.
60 min: Denmark have a free-kick, 30 yards out. Daniel Agger takes. The keeper catches. Simples.
62 min: Andreas Rieß adds: "Some additional information to make the yellow card amnesty after the quarterfinals an issue as well for English supporters: suspensions are not carried onto European Championship qualifiers." a) nice sly dig at the English, German boy; b) So if we lose we might as well throw a few punches, eh?
64 min: Christian Eriksen, just 18 and the youngest player at the World Cup, we're told, replaces Thomas Kahlenberg
65 min: Samuel Eto'o has scored a penalty for Cameroon to make it 1-1 in the other game. Denmark a flinging a succession of not-good-enough balls towards Japan's penalty area. "Note the combined Japanese/Danish flag in that picture's background, as well as the Dannebrog on the cheek right/front. Always courteous. That's how I remember the Japanese fans from 2006 when they flooded Dortmund for that Brazil match," writes Radbert Grimmig. Dannebrog, eh. Get you.
66 min: Bendnter gets booked for dissent. The only way he'll be getting into the referee's notebook today.
68 min: Denmark are hopeless. Really, stop now. Just walk off, go home. You're getting nothing out of this.
68 min: Eriksen slams an initially nice-looking half-volley high and wide from 20 yards.
70 min: Denmark dink a not-good-enough ball towars Tomasson. Then Rommedahl pulls a good-enough-actually ball towards Tomasson, whose shot is not good enough. Denmark's best chance of the night. "Why oh why am I stuck watching this in Shanghai (work, grr) when I could be home in tokyo?" blubs Ganesh Sethuraman. "I need to be there next to the Danish embassy, that's five minutes from my place!"
73 min: "As the majority of European teams either drop like flies or progress without convincing are we heading for another Cup where the European football press bemoans the quality of the Cup because they didn't do well, like '02?" asks Kyle Karinen. No, I'd say. As a fan of a lower-division football team, I love big teams doing badly. Could have done with Germany and England joining France and Italy, really. That would have been ace (though now I'd like England to win it please).
74 min: Shinji Okazaki replaces the excellent, if a little less influential this half, Matsui.
76 min: Martin Keown says Premier League scouts should be casting their eye over 32-year-old centre-back Yuji Nakazawa. "He's up for a battle," he roars.
78 min: Okazaki heads straight at Sorensen, a half-decent chance. They're not really bothering to attack, Japan, content to be totally dominant in defence and willing to have a chuckle watching Denmark try pitifully to score against them.
80 min: Penalty to Denmark! Agger goes down in the box under Makoto Hasebe's challenge. A slight push, a big fall. Which happened just as I was writing about an excellent shot on the turn from Soren Larsen that slammed against the crossbar, a minute earlier.
GOAL FOR DENMARK! Denmark 1 Japan 2 (Tomasson, 81) Tomasson misses the penalty, but collects the rebound and dinks it into the corner.
83 min: And now Tomasson's limping. Looks like he did a thigh muscle scoring the goal. Now he's limping, and 33, he and Bendtner might make an all-time least impressive front two for the last seven minutes.
85 min: Huntelaar scores a second for Holland, putting them 2-1 up against Cameroon. Tomasson barely walking now, but Denmark have used up their substitutions so he'll limp on, I imagine.
86 min: "I nonchalantly told my friends I'd eat my hat if Japan goes through the group stages," writes Tomohiko Harada, as Akubo slams a shot into Sorensen's chest from 15 yards. "Does anyone here know a good recipe for hat?"
GOAL! JAPAN SEAL IT! Denmark 1 Japan 3 (Okazaki, 88) Really good build-up, the pass to Honda, his clever turn to humiliate Rommedahl and the square pass to let Okazaki tap into an empty net. Excellent goal. Excellent performance.
90 min: Look at Japan's last 10 games here – pre-World Cup defeats to England, South Korea, Serbia, South Korea again, and some team I don't know. Victories over only Hong Kong and Bahrain. Where has their World Cup form come from?
90+1 min: Junichi Inamoto has just come on, a blast from the past.
90+2 min: Agger gets the ball in the penalty area and blasts it goalwards. It deflects off Yuki Abe's back and then Makoto Hasebe's hand before bouncing away to safety. No penalty.
90+3 min: "Lovely little scene just now of the Japanese coach kicking one of his players up the backside in joy at the third goal," reports Peterr McGushin. "They really know how to celebrate." More of that to come, you'd have thought.
90+4 min: "He's played like a Rolls-Royce tonight, Honda," says Keown.
90+5 min: Peeeep! It's all over! Japan go through! And mental!
Final thoughts: A disappointing match, if only because Japan were so very, emphatically superior where I had been anticipating a real battle. Brilliant to see both the 2002 hosts excelling again, proving to the world that they don't need home advantage and some slightly dodgy officiating to shine. Daisuke Matsui, Yuji Nakazawa and Keisuke Honda stood out, one in defence, one in midfield and one in attack, but if they've got any weak links Denmark didn't find them tonight.
In 2002 they got out of their group and promptly lost to Turkey; they could go one better against Paraguay here. Organised in defence – giving Denmark too much space just once, from memory, back in the 14th minute – disciplined and inventive in midfield and with Honda excellent in attack. If you haven't already, check out his assist for the third. Wildly impressive. Goes for the whole team, really.
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