DURBAN, June 18- The Netherlands face Japan here on Saturday with both teams in a position to battle for top spot in Group E, a position that would see them potentially avoid Italy in the second round.
The Dutch beat Denmark 2-0 in their first game while the Japanese shocked Cameroon 1-0 for their first ever World Cup victory on foreign soil. The African side play the Danes in Saturday’s late match.
Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk said the familiarity with Denmark’s game made for a no-mistakes contest on Monday, but he was expecting a different challenge against the Japanese.
"Now the players are more relaxed and less nervous after their opening game I expect a better performance against Japan," he said.
"The opening game in a tournament is always difficult, and while our first-half performance was not up to our standard, we should have worked things out better over this week in training."
But the Oranje, two-time beaten World Cup finalists in 1974 and 1978, will likely be without star Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, who has failed to recover from a left hamstring injury sustained in a 6-1 friendly win over Hungary just before the tournament started.
"He is coming along well, but he is not yet ready to play for an entire game and it could be another eight days," van Marwijk said.
"I have to talk with our medical staff about Arjen, but I wouldn’t expect him to be at his top until next week."
In their last encounter together, the Dutch beat Japan 3-0 in a friendly in Enschede in September, but the Blue Samurai dominated early on before conceding three goals in the last 20 minutes.
But that result has not prevented Japanese coach Takeshi Okada, who prior to the finals said he wanted the Japanese to reach the last four, from saying that despite all the Dutch players posing a danger, it was pointless going for a draw.
"My players are highly motivated now and they are raring to go," said Okada.
"I’m half-idealist and half-realist. I will take many things into consideration and aim to win."
"There will be a chance for us to win," midfielder Junichi Inamoto said, adding that the win over Cameroon had bucked an unwanted losing trend to Serbia, South Korea, England and Ivory Coast in warm-ups, with only one goal scored.
"I realise very much that the team’s momentum, unity and confidence have been lifted after we won the game, no matter how, after four defeats."
Okada is widely expected to use the same first team against the Dutch, with former Mallorca striker Yoshito Okubo and Grenoble midfielder Daisuke Matsui in support.
The winner of the match has a good chance to go on to top Group E, meaning the round of 16 game will be against the runners-up in Group F, which comprises Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
The runners-up in Group E will play the winners of Group F.
KEY TO MATCH
Japanese defence v Dutch attack
The Japanese defence will have its work cut out in staunching a vibrant Dutch attack that has yet to gel. The question is how long the Blue Samurai will be able to hold out for against the likes of the tireless Wesley Sneijder in midfield. If Sneijder clicks with his star-studded attack which boasts the likes of striker Robin van Persie and is supported by Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart, Japan might struggle.