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Game preview: Japan-Netherlands

June 18, 2010
By Michael Griffin
ESPN.com
(Archive)

What's on the line:

The Group E match at Durban Stadium features the two winners from the pool's opening encounters, and a victory by either Japan or the Netherlands could clinch a berth into the next round, depending on the result of the Cameroon-Denmark game being played later on Saturday in Pretoria.

Style and tactics:

The Dutch remain group favorites after a 2-0 win over Denmark, but the team's vaunted offense took a while to kick in against its European neighbors. The Netherlands' 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation features a number of danger men in attack, although Arjen Robben should remain on the bench with a hamstring injury.

Always looking to attack, the Netherlands could be susceptible on the counter -- which fits with Japan's style of play. The Samurai feature a number of talented midfielders and should line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe influential in the center of the park.

Players to watch:

Keisuke Honda, Japan. Honda appeared in only three of Japan's World Cup qualifiers, but the midfielder has become a regular on Takeshi Okada's side since late last year. The 24-year-old -- who scored the lone goal in Japan's Group D win over Cameroon -- has impressed on the club level since joining Russian side CSKA Moscow in January, and adds both pace and versatility to the Samurai's lineup.

Eljero Elia, Netherlands. The young winger provided the second-half spark for his team against Denmark with a number of dangerous runs down the left flank. The pacy 23-year-old from Hamburg in Germany may be on the move to a bigger club this summer if he continues to shine in South Africa.

What we can expect:

Japan may be content with playing for a draw against the talented Dutch side, figuring that advancement to the second round remains a good possibility with four points heading into its final match against Denmark. That approach is risky against a team featuring the likes of Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, who will all look to pressure and probe Japan's defense at every opportunity.

Intangibles:

The Netherlands has a history of faltering after strong starts in international competitions, with the team's exit to Russia in the 2008 European Championships the latest example. The Dutch temperament and some internal disputes have been blamed for derailing the promising campaigns of the past. If the goals fail to come against Japan, will we see some more infighting?

Who will win?

Netherlands, 2-0. In similar fashion to the team's opening match, the superior attack of the Dutch will break down Japan's defense to leave the Oranje sitting pretty atop Group E.

Michael Griffin is an editor for ESPN.com.