Thank goodness Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk inserted Eljero Elia. Without him, the Dutch looked like just another plodding team trying to hold on to a 1-0 (own-goal) victory.
Elia, just 23 and with nine caps to his career, came on in the 67th minute and brought with him a spark the Dutch were missing for the first 66 minutes. Playing on the left wing, Elia time and again showed flashy moves and speed that confounded the Danes. His biggest contribution came on a shot that hit the far post but was pounced on by Dirk Kuyt to put the Dutch up for good at 2-0.
Speaking of Kuyt, the Liverpool winger was great, never tiring and working endlessly to help the Dutch attack. Kuyt really shined when striker Robin Van Persie left the field in the 77th. Other than a right-footed shot early, Van Persie didn’t get many looks. Kuyt on the other hand, playing up top where he rarely plays, looked right at home. Van Marwijk probably won’t change much in the Netherlands’ next game, but Elia gave him some food for thought.
Japan playing on the road? Chock up a lo… Wait a minute, what’s that? A Japan goal in the first half? They must be trailing, right?
Nope. Japan took it to Cameroon, earning the Blue Samurai their first World Cup finals win on foreign soil. Keisuke Honda’s 39th-minute goal off a cross was a deserved marker for the Japanese, who dominated the Indomitable Lions for most of the match.
Japan controlled the midfield, looked creative in attack and kept Cameroon stuck in its defensive third for stretches at a time. The victory comes as a shock, as the Japanese won against a team playing on its home continent.
The victory immediately puts the Japanese in the driver’s seat to the second round, second in Group E only to the Netherlands on goal differential. If the Japanese can earn a draw or a close loss to the Netherlands in their next match, they can turn their focus to a win over Denmark and a berth in the knockout stages.
Few expected the Dutch to struggle to create in the attacking third. Fewer expected to see that 1 in the Japanese win column.
– Scott Kaniewski