Japan defeats Denmark, reaches knockout stage
Japan's Shinji Okazaki scores past Denmark's goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. (REUTERS/Radu Sigheti)
Rustenburg - Japan booked its ticket to the FIFA World Cup knockout round with a 3-1 win over Denmark at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Thursday.
Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo scored first-half free-kick goals to propel the Japanese to a round-of-16 match against Group F winner Paraguay on Tuesday. With the win, Japan earned Group E's runner-up spot behind the Netherlands, which earned a 2-1 win over Cameroon in the other Group E match on Thursday. Cameroon and Denmark are now officially eliminated.
The Japanese, who carried the majority of the possession throughout the game, got the game's first goal inside 20 minutes when Hondo fired a long-range free kick that he struck perfectly inside the left post, just past the fingertips of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
Japan doubled the lead at the half-hour mark on another free kick, this one from just outside the penalty area in the middle of the field.
"Our team has a strength that others don't have," Japan coach Takeshi Okada said. "We are truly united. We wanted to demonstrate that football is a team sport. This was our first objective (to reach the second round) so I am relieved. The players kept going until the end without losing their focus. I am proud to be with such a great bunch of players."
Honda and Endo both line up over the ball, and with Sorensen expecting a Honda right-footed laser, Endo curled a left-footed shot over the wall and in.
The Danes got a second-half penalty-kick goal after Daniel Agger's bit of diving fooled the referee, allowing Jon Dahl Tomasson to score his country's all-time leading 52nd international goal. Tomasson missed the initial shot but converted the rebound.
Japan took all the doubt out of the match in the 88th minute when Shinji Okazaki tapped in from close range after a Honda setup in the Denmark area to close out the scoring.
"The way the whole match progressed was decided on the two set pieces when they scored the two goals," Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. "We knew which two players were going to take the free-kicks. We prepared, but it didn't help. They took their chances, we didn't take ours and it became an uphill struggle for us. The way the whole match evolved was decided by the two free- kicks in the first half."