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Three quick thoughts: Netherlands-Japan (World Cup Group E)


Three quick thoughts after the Netherlands' 1-0 win over Japan in Group E:

1. Who needs friends with enemies like these? It's an open secret among the Dutch press corps that Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie are barely on speaking terms after falling out over who should take a free kick at Euro 2008. Their disagreement even descended into a public "I-said-then-he-said" slanging-match. But this Netherlands team has put all disharmony to one side and, in extending its unbeaten run to 21 games, was indebted to Van Persie's layoff to Sneijder for the only goal of the game. Many successful teams have players who don't get on with each other: later today we will see if Cameroon can conjure a win from its divided camp.

2. If the Netherlands is the new Germany Then that would make Germany the new Netherlands. After all, Germany crushed a poor team, Australia, 4-0, then lost promptly lost to a defensive side in Serbia, while along the way it picked up a needless red card and even missed a penalty, its first non-shootout miss for 36 years. The Netherlands, on the other hand, has won two matches without playing well and has coasted into the second round while barely raising a sweat (although the late chance Japan squandered and close penalty call were a slight concern). Even more worrying for its opponents, it has done so without its best player Arjen Robben, who can expect some playing-time in the next match against Cameroon. This is a team that could go far.

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3. It's just as well Takeshi Okada did not resign. The Japan coach was a laughing-stock before the tournament when, after challenging his team to reach the semifinals, he reportedly handed in his resignation following a friendly defeat to South Korea. But his pragmatic approach worked in the 1-0 win against Cameroon and you could see his players had purpose and crucially, belief, in this game. Okada promised a more attacking approach against Holland, but the stifling job it carried out to perfection in the first-half frustrated the Dutch (and the fans, who started their Mexican wave only 15 minutes in). The Dutch goal did not knock the team out of its stride and losing 1-0 is not a disaster, given that Denmark lost 2-0 to the same opponents. That could leave Japan's fate in its own hands in Thursday¹s final group game against the Danes.