Netherlands 1-0 Japan
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In the closing minutes of the game, the Dutch subs started to try hard, and they very nearly scored a 2nd goal on a couple different breakaways. Other than the start of the second half, when Wesley Sneijder sent a rocket off the hands of the Japanese keeper into the net, this was the only time you got the impression the Netherlands were applying themselves fully to the game.
In leagues like the NBA, smart teams conserve energy in regular season games so they can kick it up a notch in the playoffs. Are the Dutch doing the same thing in the group stage? Because, while they’ve collected 6 points, you get the feeling they haven’t had to leave 2nd gear to get them. Maybe they just play a casual style, but maybe there’s a truly dominant performance still to come. With advancement basically in the bag, we probably won’t see it until the round of 16 if it exists.
Japan had a spell of possession in the second half, piling up corners and some free kicks, and there were a few moments where Dutch defenders had to make the perfect slide or fight for a head on the ball to protect their clean sheet. There was also a free shot from 8 yards out just before the end of the game, but it was sent over the bar. For the most part, that was the extent of the Japanese attack.
Takeaways from the match:
1) Wesley Sneijder is as great a finisher as playmaker when he chooses to be.
2) The Dutch haven’t allowed a goal yet at the tournament and seldom look threatened.
3) Japan’s GK Eiji Kawashima is really good, even with the foul-up on Sneijder’s shot. Smothered a couple other point-blank attempts.
4) What happened to Japanese striker Honda in the second half? Even when things picked up, he was only on the periphery.
5) As long as teams like Argentina shine brighter and teams like England suck harder, the Netherlands will continue fly under the radar. Which is just how they want it.