RUSTENBURG, June 22 – Japan have identified stopping Nicklas Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl as the key to their hopes of making history at the expense of Denmark here on Thursday.A draw at the Royal Bafokeng stadium will be enough to get Japan through the group stage of a World Cup for the first time on foreign soil.
Like their opponents, the Danes have beaten Cameroon and lost to the Netherlands in group E, but their inferior goal difference means Morten Olsen’s squad must win to reach the last 16.
Japan defender Yuji Nakazawa admits Arsenal striker Bendtner will pose a significant threat in the air.
But the centreback believes the 1.94-metre (6′ 4") striker can be neutralised and underlined that the Japanese squad were determined to make a point to those who wrote them off as no-hopers in a group that has already been won by the Dutch.
"We should not be afraid," Nakazawa said. "It’s faster to find our ranking by looking up from the bottom of the 32-nation list. But because we are all aware of that, it makes us try harder."
Rommedahl was outstanding in Denmark’s win over Cameroon but the fullback who will mark him on Thursday, Yuto Nagatomo, believes he can force the Ajax winger to do his own share of defending.
"I wasn’t outdone when I played one-on-one against the Dutch players," he said. "I didn’t let them break through. I could pose a threat to them."
Per Kroldrup is expected to come into the Danish side in place of the suspended Simon Kjaer and the Fiorentina defender is itching to get involed.
"I have been training for a long time without playing games. I am very fit and ready," Kroldrup said.
"It is my first game (at the World Cup) but they are all crucial. Japan is a good team that is very well organised and it is going to be difficult. But we are confident and we believe in our means and think we can beat them."
Japan’s captain, Makoto Hasebe, acknowledged that the Danes enjoy a significant advantage in terms of height and underlined the importance of not allowing them the opportunity to exploit it from set pieces.
"They are formidable on set pieces," Hasebe said. "I think it will be important to avoid committing fouls."
Japan coach Takeshi Okada has described Denmark as a side "without any shortcomings" but he is counting on his own players rising to the occasion in a match he believes gives them the opportunity to become legends.
"We have been given a chance to reach the last 16," said the 53-year-old. "It might not come again in our lifetime."
Denmark are playing in the World Cup finals for only the fourth time in their history but it is perhaps significant that they have always progressed beyond the first round.
They reached the second round in Mexico in 1986, were quarter-finalists at France 98 and, in their last outing on football’s biggest stage, in Japan and South Korea in 2002, made it to the last 16.
KEY TO MATCH
Nerve. Japan’s natural tendency is to play a quick-passing, attacking game but, with only a point required, coach Takeshi Okada will be concerned about Denmark’s threat on the counter-attack. A more cautious approach may be required but is Japan’s defence capable of holding out under a Viking siege?