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Posted on: Friday, 25 June 2010

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Shinji Okazaki

Shinji Okazaki

Japan too good for sub par Denmark
Japan booked their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup when they defeated an out of sorts Denmark 3-1 in their final Group E fixture at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg last night. Two well-struck goals from free kicks by Keisuke Honda, after 17 minutes, and Yasuhito Endo on 30 minutes, gave the Asians a 2-0 halftime lead.

The Danes pulled a goal back nine minutes from time when Japanese ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima blocked a Jon Dahl Tomasson penalty only for the Danish forward to score from the rebound. Shinji Okazaki (pictured) netted a third goal three minutes from time to give Japan their handsome victory. They are now the second Asian team after South Korea to qualify for the last 16 and will meet Paraguay in Pretoria Accommodation on Tuesday.

Japan took control of proceedings from the start and put the Danish defence under constant pressure. Their meticulous, one-touch play and the speed of their atatcks created a series of chances, Daisuke Matsui stretching to meet an angled cross by Yoshito Okubo that hit the diving Danish ‘keeper Thomas Sorensen’s right knee, being just one of many.

The Asians, enjoying midfield superiority, duly took the lead after 17 minutes with a brilliant goal by Honda. Taking a free-kick 30 metres out on the right, he unleashed a left-foot shot that left the flat-footed Sorensen helpless. Desperate to secure an equaliser the Danes pressed forward with fierce determination, but were frustrated when Jon Dahl Tomasson shot narrowly wide and had another effort saved. Denmark were then left reeling when Per Kroldrup tripped Okubo and Endo curled a right-foot free-kick round the wall and inside Sorensen’s left post from 25 metres.

After Endo’s strike the Danes were always playing catch up football and although Tomasson pulled one back for the Europeans, Japan sealed victory through Okazaki’s late goal. It was a fine performance from the Japanese who must be very confident of their chances in the knockout stages.

Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie

Holland edge out Indomitable Lions to go through
Netherlands advanced to the World Cup knockout stages when they recorded a convincing 2-1 victory over Cameroon at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town last night. It was their third win from as many games and secured them top spot in Group E. The Dutch will now play Slovakia in the second round of football’s most prestigious tournament.

Goals from Robin van Persie (pictured) and Klaas Jan Huntelaar secured the win for the Europeans, who had already qualified for the last 16 with victories over Denmark and Japan. Nicely balanced throughout the team, the Dutch have qualified without even engaging top gear and are currently head and shoulders above any of the other European teams in the competition.

Cameroon made a positive start to the match and put their opponents under pressure early, but the precision passing of Netherlands always made them look the more threatening side. Van Persie had a golden opportunity to put his team ahead after 19 minutes when he chested down a lovely 40-metre ball by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but his weak shot hardly troubled Cameroon ‘keeper Hamidou Souleymanou.

After Dirk Kuyt had squandered another opportunity to score, Van Persie eventually broke the deadlock in the 36th minute when a clever one-two with Rafael van der Vaart put him through and he guided the ball through the ‘keeper’s legs. The goal allowed the Dutch to focus and they began to move the ball around sharply on the stadium’s high-speed surface.

The Indomitable Lions responded with some clever moves of their own and Samuel Eto’o, Landry Nguemo, Jean Makoun and Aurelien Chedjou, a late change to the starting lineup for Alexandre Song, all had chances to score in the second half. Their constant pressure was rewarded when Van der Vaart handled a Geremi free kick in the area and Eto’o levelled matters with a 65th-minute penalty.

With only seven minutes of normal time left and the teams deadlocked at 1-1, it seemed like a draw would be the logical result, but substitute Huntelaar had other ideas when he stroked the ball into the back of an empty net after Robben’s shot from the edge of the box hit a post and rebounded into the path of the striker. Despite finishing last in their group and being unable to score a single point, Cameroon can hold their heads high after a gutsy second-half display.

Robert Vittek

Robert Vittek

Defending champions Italy crash out
Defending champions Italy were bundled out of the World Cup yesterday when they slumped to an embarrassing 3-2 defeat to Slovakia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Slovakia’s win put them through to the last 16 as Group F runners-up.

Striker Robert Vittek (pictured) scored a brace and Kamil Kopunek added a third in the 89th minute to stun the fifth ranked Italians who never really got going against their 34th ranked opponents. Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella scored late on for Italy but the group favourites were always playing catch up against the well-organised Slovaks.

“Everybody had the desire, the dream to get through but we didn’t and it’s our fault,” said Italy’s injured first-choice goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. “If you can’t win it is right to go home. We will have to look at what happened,” he added. “It’s a huge success. We’ve moved the limits of Slovak football. We couldn’t have dreamt about this,” said goalscorer Vittek. “Of course, we didn’t expect such domination. We were better during the match. We played with our hearts and that’s what decided the match today,” he added.

Slovakia, needing a win to have any hope of reaching the knockout stages, started confidently, moving the ball around swiftly and demonstrating a sharpness on attack that their opponents lacked. The Azzurri, who were let down by poor defending in their early games against Paraguay and New Zealand (both 1-1 draws), were once again made to pay for their sloppiness at the back.

Daniele De Rossi carelessly gave the ball away in the 25th minute allowing Juraj Kucka to pass to a falling Vittek who made no mistake from the edge of the box. Italy’s best chance in the opening 45 minutes came when Slovakia’s Martin Skrtel headed narrowly over his own bar, a sign of how poor the Azzurri have been in the tournament.

The second half saw Vittek bang in a second goal at the near post in the 73rd minute and, after Di Natale pulled one back for Italy on 81 minutes, substitute Kopunek netted a third for the Eastern Europeans a minute before the end. His effort was a typical example of the determination Slovakia have displayed in the tournament thus far.

Chasing a through ball, the 26-year-old Kopunek produced a surging run which saw him outsprint two defenders and lob the ball over a despairing Federico Marchetti in the Italian goal. Quagliarella made it 3-2 with a brilliant long-range chip over Jan Mucha in extra time, but it was too little, too late for the defending champions who looked absoulutely gutted at the final whistle.

With France also exiting in the Group stage, it is the first time the two finalists from the previous tournament have been unable to make it to the last 16. It was a shocking defeat for Italy and brought a sudden end to Marcello Lippi’s time as Italy coach and the international careers of Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso after the trio said this would be their last tournament with the national side.

Roque Santa Cruz

Roque Santa Cruz

Paraguay qualify for last 16 with draw
Paraguay breezed into the last 16 of the World Cup with a goalless draw against New Zealand in Polokwane yesterday. The 31st ranked South Americans created the better chances but took few risks knowing that a point was sufficient to book their place in the knockout stages.

The 78th ranked New Zealanders did not manage a single shot on goal, but their defence was top notch and they can be proud of their achievements in the tournament. The All Whites did not taste defeat in the global showpiece, earning draws against Slovakia and Italy before yesterday’s match.

These results were above and beyond expectations for the Kiwis and they received a rousing send off from their supporters at the end. Seldom has a team of such modest technical ability and limited international experience done so well at a World Cup. The All Whites demonstrated good organisation, discipline and effort to finish above the Italians in Group F and disprove many of the pundits who stated they had no business participating in the tournament. However, there was a surprising lack of urgency from the All Whites who, with Slovakia beating Italy, could have even topped the group with a victory.

“I think I need to pinch myself,” said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert. “If you are going to exit the World Cup there are good ways of doing it. “A lot of people thought we shouldn’t be here and that we had amateurs who were not up to it. But I think that’s dead and buried now,” he added.

In a dreary opening 45 minutes, Paraguay enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession but were unable to convert that into genuine goalscoring opportunities, their attack lacking teeth. “I’m pleased with the qualification but not with the way we played,” said Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino. “We had a lot of problems in an area where we didn’t expect, and that was in attack,” he added.

Paraguay’s best efforts in the opening half came from captain and right-back Denis Caniza with two long-range shots. Indeed, the first corner of the match did not come until 17 minutes into the second half and it produced the South American’s best effort with a Cristian Riveros header well saved by New Zealand’s agile ‘keeper Mark Paston.

Martino brought on forwards Lucas Barrios and Edgar Benitez in a bid to beef up his side’s attack and the change had the intended effect. After an excellent passing move, Benitez produced a curling shot that was parried away by Paston. Then Roque Santa Cruz (pictured), who demonstrated some glimpses of his class, brought a top notch save out of Paston from an 80th minute free kick.

The only real moment of concern for Paraguay came four minutes later when Shane Smeltz fired a ball across the face of the goal and 18-year-old substitute Chris Wood, sliding in at the back post, almost knocked it into the back of the net.

“We’re very happy to have qualified but it was a very difficult game,” said Santa Cruz. “The game got boring because they were so defensive. In a game like this you expect to win but the important thing is we qualified,” he added.

Other results (from left to right, African teams in bold)
Slovenia 0 – England 1
USA 1 – Algeria 0
Ghana 0 – Germany 1
Australia 2 – Serbia 1
Group Standings (GD = Goal Difference, * = qualified for last 16)

Group A
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.        Uruguay*           4         7
2.        Mexico*             1          4
3.       South Africa2        4
4.       France                -3         1

Group B
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.         Argentina*         6         9
2.         South Korea*     -1        4
3.         Greece              -3         3
4.         Nigeria -2        1

Group C
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.       USA*                   1        5
2.       England*             1        5
3.       Slovenia              0         4
4.       Algeria -2        1

Group D
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.       Germany*            4         6
2.       Ghana* 0         4
3.       Australia             -3        4
4.       Serbia                 -1        3

Group E
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.       Holland*              4         9
2.       Japan*                 2        6
3.       Denmark              -3       3
4.       Cameroon -3      0

Group F
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.       Paraguay*          2         5
2.       Slovakia*           -1        4
3.       New Zealand        0         3
4.       Italy                    -1        2

Group G
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.       Brazil*                3          6
2.       Portugal*           7          4
3.       Ivory Coast -2         1
4.       North Korea       -8          0

Group H
Pos     Team                 GD       Pts
1.        Chile*                 2          6
2.       Spain                  1           3
3.       Switzerland         0           3
4.       Honduras            -3          0

Upcoming matches
Portugal vs Brazil – Durban – 4pm
North Korea vs Ivory Coast – Nelspruit – 4pm
Chile vs Spain – Pretoria – 8.30pm
Switzerland vs Honduras – Bloemfontein – 8.30pm

Uruguay vs South Korea – Port Elizabeth – 4pm
USA vs Ghana – Rustenburg – 8.30pm

Germany vs England – Bloemfontein – 4pm
Argentina vs Mexico – Johannesburg – 8.30pm

Note: Saturday and Sunday’s matches are knockout games. A defeat will spell instant elimination from the tournament.

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