RUSTENBURG, June 23 – Japan coach Takeshi Okada has told his squad they must conjure up the spirit of Samurai warriors if they are to make history in their World Cup showdown with Denmark 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, and Okada believes it will be guts and determination as much as tactical or technical factors that will decide the outcome.
"To win such a big match, I think in a sense we need something beyond the team’s tactics," Okada said.
"I really want the players to fight with a solid mentality. It would be ideal if we can overwhelm the opposition by 10 goals. But it won’t be that easy. It’s going to be a very close, fierce match.
"The players know what is at stake, we’ve got a chance to do something special here."
The Japanese have made nullifying Nicklas Bendtner and winger Dennis Rommedahl the centrepiece of their plan for progress, while Arsenal striker Bendtner believes Denmark can make their height advantage and power in the air pay.
"Japan is a good team and very defensive, but I believe in the strength we have," said the 22-year-old Arsenal star. "I would be bitterly disappointed if we didn’t win."
Like Japan, the Danes have beaten Cameroon and lost to the already-qualified Netherlands in group E, but their inferior goal difference means Morten Olsen’s squad must win to reach the last 16.
Bendtner, who at 1.94m (6’4") will tower over the defenders marking him, added: "We know we have to score. But if we can hold the ball up and use the height we have in attack then I believe that could break any defence down."
Japan’s captain, Makoto Hasebe, admits the Danes will have an edge in terms of aerial power but is confident the threat can be nullified by cutting off the supply to Bendtner.
"We know that Denmark is a very dangerous side from crosses and on set pieces," Hasebe said. "We have to press them well and be sure we don’t give away any silly fouls that will give them the chance to get balls into the box."
Fiorentina defender Per Kroldrup is expected to come in to the side for the suspended Simon Kjaer as the Danes seek to maintain a proud World Cup record of always progressing beyond the first round in what is their fourth finals appearance.
Olsen admits that the pressure on his side to push forward in search of at least one goal offers an advantage to opponents who have only conceded one in 180 minutes of football in South Africa — the Wesley Sneijder strike that gave the Netherlands a 1-0 win.
"We hoped to get something out of our game against the Dutch and I think looking back it was possible," Olsen reflected.
"Of course it could be better that we only had to have one point but that is the situation. The reality is we have to win the game."
Denmark reached the second round in Mexico in 1986, were quarter-finalists at France 98 and made it to the last 16 in Japan and South Korea in 2002.
KEY TO MATCH
Nerve. Japan’s players have the ability to beat Denmark but the burden of making history could weigh heavily on them while the Danes have tended to punch above their weight in previous World Cup appearances. With Denmark obliged to push forward, Japan will get chances to counter-attack. Can they make the most of them and can their defence hold out under pressure?