The pre-match talk was again centred on the fitness of key striker Nicklas Bendtner. The Arsenal forward has struggled with a groin injury for much of the season and is a valuable member of the squad. Nonetheless, he started the final group match despite his niggling injury. Olsen made two changes from the win over Cameroon, with Thomas Kahlenberg coming in for Jesper Gronkjaer and Per Kroldrup replacing the suspended Simon Kjaer. The omens looked good for Denmark as history was on their side. The Danes have progressed out of the group stage in three out of three appearances. This was only their fourth appearance at a World Cup finals but their record is still impressive for a country with such a low population. The Reds last played Japan back in 1971 in their first and only encounter, in which they won 3-2 in a friendly, played in Copenhagen.
Denmark started brightly, keeping the ball well and patiently building an attack. The problem with playing this way meant there was little space for the forwards to move into. Japan defended tightly and made it hard for their opponents to score. Dennis Rommedahl was marked closely throughout and he could not rediscover the good form he produced in previous games. Despite a slow start from Japan, they soon sparked into life when Daisuke Matsui came close to scoring. Keisuke Honda’s stunning free-kick dealt the Danes a major blow, despite them starting off as the better team. A Cristiano Ronaldo style shot wrong-footed Thomas Sorensen and the ball flew past him into the net. The goalkeeper may well have been at fault but it was still a good strike. If the Danes were to win the game they would have to repeat the hard work they produced against Cameroon in their last game.
If the first free-kick was good then the second was even better. Yasuhito Endo’s effort curled past the wall and into the corner of the net giving Sorensen no chance of saving it. The goal could have been prevented, if the keeper had organized his wall differently, as putting the smaller Lars Jacobsen on the edge of the wall was not the wisest choice. It was a killer blow for the Danes who were enjoying most of the possession. A change was needed and Jakob Poulsen came on to replace Martin Jorgensen. Olsen obviously felt the need for younger, fresher legs. However, the Japanese ended the half the stronger and every attack they produced they looked like scoring from. If Denmark thought Japan were going to sit back and defend for a draw they were sadly mistaken. The two goals knocked the Scandinavian’s confidence and belief and they went into the break 2-0 down.
The beginning of the second-half saw the return of Denmark’s sloppy play. They kept on giving the ball away cheaply. Sorensen needed the help of his post to save the embarrassment of being lobbed. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s poor form continued despite scoring his first international goal in two years. After Daniel Agger was pushed inside the box, Tomasson was given the chance to equal Poul Nielsen’s record of goals with a penalty. His effort was woeful and despite it being saved he just about managed to scuff the rebound in. His strike partner was also a distant shadow of his usual self. Bendtner struggled to get into the game and his performance was summed up when he was booked for dissent. The game soon became stretched and Shinji Okazaki wrapped up the victory late on.
Denmark came into the match with high hopes and with a real chance of beating the rank outsiders. Olsen wanted an improved performance from his side but sadly they could not deliver and they have paid the price. For some of the older players, this may be their last ever World Cup appearance. Credit has to be given to Japan who simply outplayed Olsen’s side. Tomasson’s strike was a small consolation on what proved to be a very disappointing night for the Danes.