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World Cup 2010: Japan push past Denmark and set up tie with Paraguay
Owen Gibson at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium - 4 years ago

Typical: you wait ages for a blockbuster free-kick at this World Cup, then two come almost at once. Within 13 first-half minutes Japan booked a place in the second round – they will now face the Group F winners Paraguay in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Any watching Adidas executives also breathed a sigh of relief as first Keisuke Honda's 30-yard free-kick flew past Thomas Sorensen and then Yasuhito Endo curled the firm's controversial ball sweetly beyond the Danish wall.

Afterwards Honda said he would be satisfied only if Japan progress further. "I had expected to be really jubilant if we won today," he said. "Why is that not the case? Maybe because we have not finished the competition. We have to go further. Step by step I want to go higher."

Japan had initially appeared to be playing for the draw that would earn passage to the second round on goal difference and within half an hour they had had two players booked for time-wasting.

The impressive Honda also took his time when sizing up a free-kick from the right after 17 minutes. From at least 30 yards his patience was more than rewarded. The CSKA Moscow striker, one of the few Japanese players to play outside the J-League, unleashed a swerving, dipping free-kick that suggested he has fully tamed the ball. Sorensen, impressive in their win against Cameroon, was culpable. He shifted his balance and got his positioning wrong. Endo repeated the trick soon after for their second, but from a more central position.

On a pitch that will haunt England's goalkeeper Robert Green for ever, Sorensen had a really unhappy evening. He also misjudged the flight of a less impressive free-kick from Endo and only just managed to knock it on to the bar.

The Jabulani ball is used in the J-League and Japan, used to its idiosyncrasies, adopted a shoot-on-sight policy. They impressed every time they swept forward. Their front three of Yoshito Okubo, Honda and Makoto Hasebe buzzed around the static defence. Even with their lead cut to a single goal and with the clock ticking down, they continued to attack, getting another reward when Honda combined with Shinji Okazaki for the third.

Japan's coach, Takeshi Okada, had told them to play without fear. "They were courageous, they were not cowardly at all," he said later. "I did not want to concentrate only on defence. I told them to summon all their courage to be aggressive."

Denmark, needing a win, had started purposefully enough and also tried to press in the second half but they lacked the class to do so. With matters becoming ever more urgent, Jon Dahl Tomasson found himself alone eight yards out and miscued his shot. Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner was also disappointing.

Their sombre manager, Morten Olsen, admitted afterwards that they had paid for not taking their chances but he also paid tribute to Honda. "A wonderful player."

There was a flicker of hope for the Danes before Japan's third. Soren Larsen hit the bar from long range, then Hasebe pushed Daniel Agger and the defender fell. Tomasson's penalty was easily saved but the forward duly knocked in the rebound.

This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.

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