DURBAN, South Africa: The Netherlands beat Japan 1-0 on Saturday for its second straight win and then became the first team to qualify for the round of 16 at the World Cup when Denmark overcame Cameroon 2-1 in a night match.
The Netherlands has a maximum six points going into its final Group E match against Cameroon next Thursday in Cape Town. Japan plays Denmark in Rustenburg at the same time in a match that will decide the second team to progress from the group.
Wesley Sneijder’s 53rd-minute strike finally broke down Japan’s stubborn resistance, which had stifled Dutch creativity for much of the match.
Robin van Persie laid the ball back and Sneijder drove in a powerful right-foot shot that Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima could only deflect into his net.
"We pressed in the second half and got a goal," Sneijder said. "This is the kind of game we maybe could have got two or three goals, but we won it and that’s great."
It was the Inter Milan playmaker’s 15th goal in 63 internationals.
"Our players did everything they could, but we could not beat the Netherlands," Japan coach Takeshi Okada said. "We feel sorry for the fans."
The Netherlands, however, again failed to live up to its billing as one of the most fluent attacking teams of the tournament. The team struggled to a 2-0 victory over Denmark in its first Group E match, while Japan had a 1-0 victory over Cameroon.
Before Sneijder’s goal, Van Persie missed chances for the Dutch in front of 62,010 fans at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Japan responded to the goal by pushing forward and Yoshito Okubo had two shots in quick succession, the first saved by Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and the second went over the bar.
Substitute Ibrahim Afellay came close to doubling the Dutch lead in the 84th and again in the 88th when he bore down on the Japan goal, but he was foiled both times by good saves from Kawashima diving at his feet.
Japan nearly made the Netherlands pay for those misses when substitute Shinji Okazaki latched onto a deep cross at the far post and shot just over the bar.
The win put the Netherlands in first place in Group E with six points. Cameroon and Denmark are also in the group.