WWC 2015 Round of 16: Japan v Netherlands

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Australia’s quarter final opponent has been confirmed with a second-successive revenge mission possible if the Matildas make amends for their 2014 Asian Cup Final loss against Japan.

What Happened

A late scare was not enough to halt Japan’s charge towards the quarter finals, overcoming a spirited Netherlands side 2-1.

Norio Sasaki’s team made the perfect start when Saori Ariyoshi lashed home a loose ball just inside the penalty area on ten minutes.

They might have doubled their advantage before half time with some lackadaisical Netherlands possession and tireless Japanese pressure resulting in several presentable opportunities.

The second half saw the Dutch wrestle most of the momentum their way and spaces began to open up out wide. However they were unable to get numbers in the box and the expertly compressed Japanese defence were able to stifle out most of the danger.

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Japan made the game safe late in the second half when Sakaguchi guided the ball into the top left corner after Iwabuchi’s smart dummy.

There was a brief fright late for Japan late on when Van de Ven’s header squirmed through the grasp of Kaihori but it was not enough to spark a miraculous late show.

Stand Out Performances

It seems unfair to praise a few players from a Japanese team that find each other so seamlessly. Each offer such a mature presence on the ball to control the tempo of the game and work relentlessly hard in both their high pressing game and getting almost everyone back to defend in and around their box.

The collective discipline and organisation was, yet again, outstanding and one of the most admirable components of a team that switch between fluid, attractive attacking football and dogged defensive efforts with ease. You could even say both forwards stood out because of the selfless and intelligent work done on the Netherland’s midfield ball carriers who were not given any time or space on the ball when the Dutch defence began each move from the back.

Talking Points

Although we’ve seen teams like Switzerland and the Netherlands put Japan under pressure, we’re yet to really see them lose control of a match so far this tournament and there is a general feeling amongst supporters that they could go up a few gears too. Can Japan make it two final appearances in a row? And how will the Matildas break down this hyper-organised, disciplined outfit when the two sides meet?

What it Means

Japan have qualified for their third quarter-final appearance. The Dutch bow out of their first World Cup at the Round of 16 stage, an achievement that represents progress for Roger Reijners’ side.

Needs Work

Netherlands were guilty of dilly dallying at the back in the first half and they could have been punished by the Japanese on another day. As it’s a crucial part of their purist, fluid approach they need to both increase the intensity and quickness of the pass and the find midfield links who were far too easily neutralized by the pressing game of the Japanese.

They looked good when they moved the ball with a bit more zest, at times breaking the first wave of the Japanese press. This left them with acres of space on occasions but they were unable to take advantage of the numerical advantage before them, often too indecisive and their lack of cutting edge meant Japan were often able to easily get numbers back, force the Dutch out wide where play would break down on the edge of the box.

Japan are one finely tuned machine at the moment although they could improve their composure in the final third. Netherlands presented them with a few generous chances in the first half that were treated too casually.

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Less opportunism and more of the ruthlessness that is present in every other aspect of the Japanese game would have seen them rack up a handsome number of goals that have otherwise gone missing in the tournament so far (their 1-0 win against Ecuador is particularly evident of this).

What Next

Japan meet Australia on the 27th of June for a mouth-watering quarter final. The winner would be through to the semi-final against either England or hosts Canada.

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Goal of the Day

Japan scored two fine goals today and both are hard to separate in terms of execution and technique. But let’s plump for the second which featured some gorgeous, delicate interplay in the Netherlands box before Iwabuchi’s clever fake left Sakaguchi ample time to place the ball into the top left corner.

Miss of the Day

Netherland’s late consolation will surely go down as the gaffe of the tournament – a horrendous error by goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori who somehow let Van de Ven’s tame header bounce through her grasp. A fairly inexplicable error – in fact, saying that she let it through her grasp would be generous. It’s almost as if Kaihori has tried to control the ball with her chest. Definitely one of the most bizarre incidents you will ever see on a football pitch for a long time. Matildas fans will hope Kaihori can keep her place for the game against Australia.

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