The plucky Blue Samurai showed amazing fighting spirit and just enough wa to route Denmark and advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup. It’s a tournament of firsts so far for the Japanese team, as it won its first World Cup game ever outside Japan and by extension advanced beyond the group stage for the first time on foreign soil.
The boys in blue wasted little time seizing the advantage over the Northern Europeans. In the 17th minute breakout star Keisuke Honda lined up a long free kick and sent a powerful left-footed boot just beyond the reach of the diving Danish goalkeeper. In the 30th minute Yasuhito Endo presided over a free kick from the top of the penalty box and hammered it home.
Denmark controlled most of the second half and had several shots that challenged the Japanese goalkeeper, and one quality strike that banged off the woodwork. The Danes finally entered the scoring column in the 81st minute as Jon Dahl Tomasson converted the rebound of his own missed penalty kick.
But it was too little too late, and the Blue Samurai weren’t done scoring. In the 87th minute the magical Honda accepted a pass at the top of the box, outwitted a defender, then laid off a perfect pass for Shinji Okazaki to finish into an open net.
In a tournament that’s practically bereft of free quick goals, it’s somewhat amazing the Japanese pulled it off twice in a half. Additionally, in the second half, Endo’s right foot launched another free quick that the goalkeeper deflected off the crossbar. The infamous Jabulani ball is the culprit. Some have gone so far as to say it’s cursed--that it simply behaves on its own whims. The truth is that it’s airy and light and therefore tends to sail. No one’s tamed it yet--except the Japanese. Expect that to be a key factor in their favor against Paraguay next Tuesday.