Netherlands aims for second WCup win against Japan
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The Netherlands takes on Japan in the World Cup on Saturday with high hopes of securing a berth in the World Cup’s knockout stages.
Winger Arjen Robben completed a full training session for the first time since recovering from a left hamstring injury, but is unlikely to start in the Group E match. The Netherlands beat Denmark 2-0 in its opening game, helped by an own goal, and some players are talking up the team’s chances of winning the tournament.
“We just have to deliver this World Cup,” midfielder Nigel de Jong said. “We have got enough quality to do it.”
Robben flew out late to join the team after picking up the hamstring injury in a June 5 friendly against Hungary.
Robben also said the Netherlands has a chance to break its World Cup curse in South Africa. Two-time runners up, the Netherlands placed fourth in 1998 and the team has been viewed as underachievers on the world stage for the past 35 years.
“There are a lot of big teams at the World Cup with a lot of quality,” Robben told FIFA.com. “But we have a very good group of players and we can accomplish something at this World Cup.”
Bert van Marwijk’s side blitzed though qualification, winning all eight matches, with 17 goals scored and two conceded. The team kept their winning run through friendly games against the United States and Mexico, before a 4-1 win over Ghana on June 1 and the 6-1 rout of Hungary days later.
In Durban, the Netherlands faces a Japan team buoyed by a 1-0 win over Cameroon, following a string of losses in warm-up matches.
Japan and the Netherlands have only met once, with the Dutch winning 3-0 in a friendly nine months ago.
Van Marwijk said he expects Saturday’s game to be very different.
“I expect a very aggressive Japan and we’re prepared for anything and everything,” he said after a team training session Friday.
“You can’t compare this to a friendly game … It’s an important match, and it’ll be a tougher fight. Both teams want to win this.”
He refused to be comment on the Netherlands’ prospects at the tournament, saying only, “There’s a long road ahead of us. I think everyone realizes that.”
Japan coach Takeshi Okada said the friendly defeat was a “turning point” for the team.
“We hardly had opportunities to play against world class teams,” he said. “So that match … allowed us to understand what were the advantages on our side and disadvantages — what worked on our side and vice versa.”
But Japan is aware that the Netherlands has strengthened its team since last year.
“They gained in terms of maturity,” Okada said. “They improved overall as a team.”
Striker Dirk Kuyt, who scored the Netherlands’ second goal against Denmark, praised Japan as a tough opponent.
“It’ll be a big game tomorrow (Saturday) and we are looking forward to it,” he said. “I think they did a great job. The first game at the World Cup is not easy and to get that result is great for them.”
Captain Makoto Hasabe said Japan aimed to increase its intensity going forward against the Netherlands, while staying strong at the back.
“The defense during our match against Cameroon was very stable and now the challenge for us … is to be more aggressive in terms of attack,” he said.
Okada benched Shunsuke Nakamura in the game against Cameroon, but that gamble paid off when Keisuke Honda scored the game’s only goal in the 39th minute.
Honda played as the lone forward for a team that has had difficultly finding a reliable goal scorer.
Okada praised his players after their opening win, but has remained tightlipped about his plans for Saturday’s match.
“Our players did very well despite the extra pressure they faced in our first game at the tournament,” Okada said.
“We’ll do whatever we think necessary to boost the team’s chances of winning (Saturday).”