Japan – Netherlands 2:1(1:0)

Official FIFA.com match website: http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/matches/round=268032/match=300269485/index.html

Japan with an exclamation mark !

Surely a match with some appealing football on display. But it was mainly Japan who showed that they are a force to reckon with. You still wonder how far their excellent organizational and technical skills are able to bring them against far more powerful and athletic sides. But it was a far more comfortable win against the Netherlands then you might have expected. The speed of the transistion from the whole team turning from offense to defense and vice versa was very impressive and how rarely they allowed the forwards of the Netherlands to get into the kind of 1 on 1 situations they are so dangerous in. Surely there will opposition coming up sooner or later who are more precise and faster to bring their dangerous players up front in a good position to have a go at them than the Netherlands have been able to.
The Netherlands might be an opponent who are with better chances against opponents which are worse organized than the Japanese. Especially considering their dangerous forward trio Melis – Miedema – Martens up front. But they have been brilliantly defended in this game where it would have been key for them to get these three going. Especially Melis had a very quiet game after her only promising run in the beginning minutes where she missed a decent opportunity in a disappointing manner giving the ball a touch with the right foot immediately before she wanted to hit it with her left – which resulted in an air ball and a spin before going to the ground. Amongst football teammates you perhaps would tell her that she should work on this pirouette again on the training ground if she wants to get more points from the judges for her artistic impression. Apart from that the Netherlands played all but too disappointing. They simply didnt know how to break down their compact opponent and simply missed the quality in precision and movement that would have been necessary to do so. Especially after the early lead Japan was quite comfortable in keeping the gaps between their players and behind their full backs narrow so that the Netherlands nearly never found enough space to produce something to get through. Martens was the most agile and skillful to try but was closed down immediately every time she started some action. Some more tries she had after the break where she changed into a number 10 role but this seemed to play even more into the cards of the Japanese defense who always was able to crowd her out in an area that is always more crowded by the nature of the game than the wings are. Additionally you have to ask the coach who stated that they lacked precision in the final pass why he then replaced one of their best players in this (van de Donk) with Martens. Instead of replacing van de Donk who doubtlessly struggled to create something and replace her with another who then also struggled – if you are down you might think it would be a logical reaction to try it with two players to increase your chances and sub out one who has her advantages in a more defensive area? That the times where teams played with only the one number 10 responsible for all the team creativity are long gone with good reason seemed to be beautifully demonstrated in this very same game by the Japanese side where all players have been willing and able to be a “little number 10” in her respective position. Speaking on tactical decisions, you might stick with the idea not to sub out your usually important players even on a bad day because they are able to create a decisive move even then. oK. But you could have helped or at least try something to help Melis to find any way back in the game. Keeping her totally cut off on a right wing where she never had the slightest influence on the game especially in the second half was one big key to success handed over to your opponents without compliments by the dutch side. And so the credit you have to give to the Netherlands was mainly that they never gave up and tried their best and kept it open – until they went 2:0 down and even until the last second because the Japanese keeper gifted them a late goal and an opportunity to keep the excitement going again until the very last second. Most of the credit on the other side for a very entertaining match was earned by a Japanese side who seemed to be ready for the task in their first real test. More difficult opponents are waiting though you really can see them advance to the finals in their bracket. Still we have not seen what might happen if they go down a goal for example. All their games didnt get them fully stretched yet so you can still not see what reserves they still have in hand. You might also wonder what kind of reserves they have regarding their corner kicks. If they continue to take them like that against better opponents they open themselves up to dangerous counter attacks rather than creating chances of their own. And given this flawless defensive display against the skillful Dutch forwards you really might think that on their way to the finals the set pieces and headers might be their main Achilles heel. Any retrospective of this game would be incomplete without emphasizing the beauty of the goal from – well, Japan. You even want to hesitate when mentioning the goal scorer who was only the last to connect to the ball as well as the previous players did – or even not did as the fantastic vision from Iwabuchi showed who made a little dummy to get the defenders attention only to let the ball pass through to Sakaguchi. And so it was a goal of 4 high quality moves in the Japanese team altogether. And where other teams often need to use the errors of their opponents if they want to score from open play it was the proof that there are teams able to create something of their own to rise some eyebrows and something that also was not on display in Brazil 2014. As a side note the loss of the Netherlands was a consolidation for the Swiss, Norway and Sweden who now all have the opportunities to play for the third European spot in the Olympics in Rio (because England is not starting for Team GB). Should be an interesting contest and some interesting matches.

Player of the match: Utsugi
As mostly when Japan wins it is so much a team effort that a single player is hard to pick. How much do you prefer individual skills or prefer a perfect integration into the team making it work seamlessly as a whole. I go for the latter here and honor her as a representative for the whole team and especially her part in preventing the Netherlands to set up anything dangerous from the center of the field even if this pick surely is debatable as she was not the one to initiate a lot of attacking play.

Player Ratings Japan (0-10)

Kaihori 5
Of course the 2:1 goal took her rating down. Would have, could have, should have it not been 2 goals up …

Aryoshi 8
Her goal made up for some trouble she had second half defending Van de Ven.

Kumagai 8
The go to girl in the defense kept it calmly together as we have seen so often.

Iwashimizu 7
Was she worse than Kumagai and what was the difference. Dont know. Maybe a little.

Samechima 8
Let no dutch winger produce anything from her side.

Kawasumi 8
Very active in offense and with the mindset of a forward oriented player she makes up for sometimes being not the first when it comes to turn into defense.

Sawaguchi 8
Covered a lot of ground in midfield as usual and finished the second goal brilliantly.

Utsugi 8
Did slightly more for the holding role of the midfield in defense and gave the Netherlands no space to create anything from there.

Miyama 7
Not quite on level with Kawasumi on the other side regarding the offense but rock solid.

Ohno 7
Also full of running and a valuable part of the team but not quite as effective as Ogimi.

Ogimi 8
Had a hard job between the Dutch center backs but was full of action and running there all the time. Not to forget a very good header which set up the 1:0.

Player Ratings Netherlands (0-10)

Geurts 7
Ok, but not good enough for the first goal.

Van Lunteren 6
Played ok the way she defended her wing. But nothing more. Some offensive action would have been needed

Van der Gragt 6
Both center backs were ok most of the time. But could improve positioning sometimes. Van den Berg 5 Both center backs were ok most of the time. But could improve positioning sometimes. No need to mark your goalie at the second goal. Van Dongen 4 Ok for most of the time but an assist on the first goal she will be disappointed with. Spitse 4 Ok but not ok enough. Didnt look good at the second Japanese goal twice to lower her rating. Dekker 6 Was in no way outclassed and played her part as the most dutch players. But that was it and more would have been needed. Van de Donk 6 Tried but could not get anythong of important notice get going. Not too bad but not enough. Melis 5 Seemed annoyed by her missed chance. Played a very minor part. Miedema 6 Same story. Tried but it never seemed enough. Got no good balls from her team mates either. Martens 7 Not lacking effort in this game. Really tried hard and started some initiative only to see it was hardly possible to get through. Van de Ven 7 Not only because the (gifted) goal she showed much more activity than the other wing.

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