Teams do not usually gain confidence from defeat but Japan forward Yoshito Okubo believes that his side are on course to claim a last-16 place if they can reproduce the performance that nearly earned them a draw against the Netherlands.
Japan go into their final Group E fixture against Denmark on Thursday needing only a point to qualify alongside the Dutch, whose progress was confirmed by Denmark's 2-1 win over Cameroon on Saturday night. After losing out 1-0 to the Oranje, Takeshi Okada's side sit above the Danes on goal difference with three points apiece and Okubo is confident they can come out on top in a deciding contest from which they require only a draw. The Scandinavians, by contrast, have to win.
Okubo told FIFA.com: "The next match is do-or-die and it goes without saying, we are facing tough opposition. But if we can maintain our performance level then I think we have a big chance." Japan produced an impressively disciplined display in Durban on Saturday. Although the Netherlands had 61 per cent of the possession, the Japanese actually managed one more shot – ten to the opponent's nine. Okubo, a forward with Vissel Kobe, had three of those shots from the wide left role he is filling in South Africa, following Keisuke Honda's switch to a central attacking role for these finals.
Okubo, selected ahead of Shunsuke Nakamura, said of his switch: "I used to score goals as a striker but being a midfielder is a challenge for me as I have the responsibility to produce chances for my team-mates. But I like this creative job and I am fitting into my new role smoothly. We lost the game but we didn't play that badly. Today we employed the right tactics and the team are progressing in the right direction so there is no need to feel upset."
Okubo was not alone in his optimism. Midfielder Yasuhito Endo said Japan's performance showed they have made marked progress since their last meeting with Netherlands in a friendly ten months ago in Enschede, which they lost 3-0. "We have improved a lot, particularly in defence," said the reigning AFC Player of the Year, who plays for Gamba Osaka. "We changed our tactics which proved effective against the Dutch." Endo made his presence felt in the centre of the park against the Oranje but the set-piece specialist is hoping for more against Denmark. "I am looking to create better chances for my team-mates in the last game. We may have a different tactical approach but we'll stick to the same goal – to get maximum points."