It was another flat display from
Wesley Sneijder was the hero as he became one of the few players to make a decent contact with the controversial Jabulani ball on the volley and Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima deflected the effort into his own net. The Dutch dominated much of the possession against an organised defence, but they struggled to break them down and Tulio Tanaka was particularly impressive as he seem to get his head and body on everything that came into the box.
A change of tactics benefitted the Netherlands following a goalless first half as van Marwijk ordered Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to push further forward to create gaps in the mean Japanese defence that was denying the creative players any space. The change seemed to work a treat as the Oranje took the lead just eight minutes into the second half.
Another positive was Ibrahim Afellay, who once again came on and looked bright, but he needs to be clinical and he spurned to goal scoring opportunities which would have secured the game for the men in Orange. But Japan stirred once they went a goal down and began to worry van Marwijk’s side. Shinji Okazaki almost stole an undeserved and unexpected point from the Dutch, but his volley went narrowly over Maarten Stekelenburg’s crossbar.
Coach van Marwijk insists that it is the result that matters and not the performance, but many Oranje fans will be worrying about their side’s lack of attacking prowess as they found it difficult to get behind the defences in their two games thus far. Another problem that seems apparent in the Holland XI is that Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart do not seem to be working well together and perhaps clash in a similar way to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard do for England. The two appear quite incompatible and when Arjen Robben is back fit and firing the Real Madrid’s van der Vaart should arguably be dropped.
For now the Netherlands are sitting pretty at the top of the group and could probably afford to rest a few stars in their next game against Cameroon, who are already out of the competition after losing 2-1 to plucky Denmark. Many would like to see van Marwijk give starts to players like Afellay and Tottenham Hotspur target Eljero Elia to see what they have to offer the side. At the very least it would add a bit of zip to an attack which hasn’t had enough pace to get in behind teams as Robin van Persie has been starved of service.
Although their start has been less than impressive they have still picked up maximum points and the Coach believes that they are capable of winning in a manner which is easier on the eye, but van Marwijk has a more pragmatic approach than previous Netherlands coaches and argues that the result’s importance is paramount above the style of football. He said: “Why do we focus on good soccer instead of winning? Let me assure you that we really, really want to win and if we can do that in style, then great, but you have to be able to win ugly games.” The coach’s opinions are reinforced by Netherlands’ playmaker Sneijder, who said: “In Holland they are only interested if you win 6-0 or 7-0 with great play and spectacle. Against Japan we will be at sea level. We will play to expectation, but for me winning is more important.”
The Dutch have definitely done the right thing by not over exerting themselves during their victories as getting used to playing at high altitude then back at sea level can take some time. Even though national squads have done their best to prepare for the conditions it can still put a strain on players. However, the Oranje fans will still want a convincing performance to rouse them in these finals and make them believe that they can win the prize.