Saturday brings a top-of-the-table clash in Group E as leaders Netherlands lock horns with a Japan side just one goal behind in second place. On the back of their spirited 1-0 win over Cameroon in their opening match, the Blue Samurai enter their second outing aiming to surprise their highly-rated rivals.
These two sides are meeting for the second time in just 10 months, having squared off in a friendly last September, when the Netherlands recorded a 3-0 victory. The Oranje appear to have an Indian sign over Asian sides, having won seven and drawn one of their eight match-ups against teams from the world’s most populous continent. Takeshi Okada’s charges will be hopeful of denting this record, but there is no doubt that Bert van Marwijk’s team will start as strong favourites.
Both sides made light work of qualifying, with Netherlands the first team to join hosts South Africa at the FIFA World Cup, and Japan booking their fourth consecutive appearance with two games to spare. The Dutch continued this rampant form in the build-up, rounding off their preparations with four wins, including a 6-1 mauling of Hungary. Japan, on the other hand, arrived in the Rainbow Nation on the back of three friendly losses.
With star winger Arjen Robben ruled out of the first game due to injury, Van Marwijk’s side still managed a comfortable 2-0 success against Denmark. Okada also left out one of his stars, Shunsuke Nakamura, and pushed Keisuke Honda up front, a decision that was fully vindicated by a hard-fought opening win.
Players to watch
Wesley Sneijder v Keisuke Honda
After inspiring his side to victory over the Danes, Sneijder has further underlined his status as the conductor of the Oranje orchestra. The Inter Milan midfielder also played a pivotal role in their 3-0 friendly win over the Japanese, and his vision and precise passing will continue to cause headaches for the Asians. Honda, meanwhile, is thriving in his new attacking role and grabbed his team’s all-important goal against Cameroon. Having spent two full seasons with VVV-Venlo, he will hope to utilise his knowledge of Dutch football to good effect against Japan's highly-fancied opponents.
10 – Netherlands have run riot in their previous three meetings with Asian sides, scoring a total of 10 goals, with the highlight a 5-0 dismantling of Korea Republic at France 1998.
What they said
“The Japan game won't be easy as they play a good style of football, running a lot and combining well. In our last meeting they put us under pressure for an hour but eventually we won. The second match is crucial for both sides and we will go all out to win,” Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands midfielder.
“The Netherlands test is important for us if we are to get through the group phase. We lost our last meeting with them, so we are motivated to win this time around. It remains to be seen whether we can get a good result but we won’t give up without a fight,” Daisuke Matsui, Japan midfielder.
Voice of the fans
“Japan is going to come out fast, riding on the momentum of their win, but the Dutch aren't going to sit down and take it. Their counter-attack will change the tides of the game. Dutch to win 3-0 (maybe 3-1 on an early lucky goal),” FIFA.com user GandhiOfWar.