RUSTENBURG, South Africa: Japan and Denmark will meet in a decider Thursday to determine the final team from Group E to advance to the next round of the World Cup.
Japan needs at least a draw, while Denmark must win in order to reach the round of 16. Both teams have three points from two matches, but Japan has a better goal difference.
Denmark coach Morten Olsen views the match against Japan at Royal Bafokeng Stadium as a "final" and said the team is confident.
"It’s a decisive game and hopefully the first final for us," he said. "We know what to do."
But Olsen admits it will be tough to beat Japan, which defended well in its first two matches. Japan beat Cameroon 1-0 in its first game with a goal by midfielder Keisuke Honda, making it the team’s first World Cup victory on foreign soil. Japan then lost 1-0 to the Netherlands in the second match.
"It is difficult to score goals nowadays when you play defensive teams," Olsen said.
Denmark was on the brink of being eliminated from the World Cup in the match against Cameroon, going a goal down before coming behind to score two, with goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl.
Denmark lost its opening match to the Netherlands 2-0.
"The coach has told us that in life you only get a few opportunities to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup and told us to give it our all," captain Makoto Hasebe said.
Denmark could be without Bendtner for Thursday’s match, with Olsen saying the forward — who started in the team’s first two group games — hasn’t fully recovered from a groin injury.
With the Dutch already through to the second round and Cameroon eliminated, subplots will take center stage in Cape Town. And the biggest one is whether Oranje will finally start playing with the free-flowing flair for which it has been famous since the 1970s.
Argentina, Brazil and Portugal have already set the World Cup alight with brilliant play. The Netherlands, despite having two wins from two games, is still lagging behind.
That is where Robben, the best player in Germany’s Bundesliga and the driving force behind Bayern Munich’s run to the Champions League final, comes in.
In recent training, the winger appears to have fully recovered from the left hamstring injury he sustained in a warm-up match against Hungary on June 5. But a decision to play him is expected just before the game at Green Point Stadium.
"It is possible that I get my first minutes against Cameroon," Robben said. "Everything is possible. We are taking it day by day."
Together with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba, Robben was among a select few players tipped to define the World Cup.
At one stage, Eto’o was on that list too, but two Cameroon losses have made sure that one of the most prominent faces on World Cup posters will be heading home Friday.
He won the Champions League and Italian league title and cup with Inter Milan, but the moment he lived for all season — the World Cup in Africa — was a disappointment.
Robben also won the German league and cup double with Bayern, but Eto’o beat him in the Champions League final.
Now, Robben should get his chance to shine with the Dutch, widely considered the best football nation never to have won the World Cup.
Coach Bert van Marwijk has shown little concern with winning ugly, as the team did in a 2-0 victory over Denmark and 1-0 over Japan. Those wins made the Netherlands the first team to qualify for the World Cup second round.
With the last first-round matches left to play, the Netherlands has six points, ahead of Denmark and Japan with three each. Cameroon is out with zero points.
A draw will give the Dutch first place for sure, but it could afford a small loss and stay top of Group E. In the second round the group winner will play the Group E runner-up. That could end up being Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia or New Zealand.
Advancing to the knockout stage is a bare minimum for the Oranje fans. Most would expect more than that, including flair to match results.