Japan v Denmark has to wait until the boys on the Beeb can get Italy’s exit out of their system. But this is probably fair enough. Earlier group results have switched the focus from Netherlands v Cameroon, which means we’ve got Martin Keown summarising. The BBC had Manish Bhasin on the stadium gantry in Cape Town. But Cameroon’s incompetence has spared us. This may have spared Bhasin too. He nods so vigorously in his interview-ette with Clarence Seedorf that you sense his head may have dropped off if he’d had to do another piece at half-time.
Japan and Cameroon finally take centre stage in front of rows of seats which are either unoccupied and covered with blue tarpaulin or are Japanese fans in even weirder costumes than usual. Two of them are dressed as sperm. But it’s before the watershed, so commentator Steve Wilson can’t say so. Nicklas Bendtner colours in his socks early on, or at least the white tape around his ankles. This allows Wilson a stab at a “red tape” joke, which isn’t bad.
Denmark’s left-back Simon Poulsen is caught offside twice in the opening minutes. Wilson suggests it is “nice to see” him that “high up the park”, and give the way he’s defended in this tournament, most Danish fans would concur. As he shoots wide, we are told Jon-Dahl Tomasson is in a “goalscoring drought for Denmark, “ which surprises no-one and will soon develop into a theme. But all of a sudden, it’s all Japan. And Keisuke Honda thinks he’s Cristiano Ronaldo, according to Wilson. Whatever the opposite of “the commentator’s curse” is, Wilson is about to put it on Honda. “His team-mates won’t thank him if he tries to score from there.” They do.
Wilson covers his misreading of the situation by overplaying the Ronaldo bit. But Keown is blaming Tomas Sorensen in Denmark’s goal, and doing so very grumpily. “You must admit that was a terrific strike,” pleads Wilson. But Keown is having none of it. It isn’t Wilson’s best day (i). He insists England are playing Germany next Tuesday, and repeats ‘Tuesday’ four or five times in as many seconds. Then, silence… presumably as one of the production staff is screaming “It’s on Sunday, you idiot!!” in his earpiece.
It isn’t Wilson’s best day (ii). Completely misreading a free-kick situation once may be regarded as misfortune; to do it twice looks like carelessness. And, boy is Wilson careless. “Honda’s scored one from forty yards, he surely won’t spurn this opportunity from 20,” he suggests, seconds before Yasuhito Endo does the honours. Even Keown admits he likes it, before asking “how do you like it?” – a phrase he uses often, for reasons best known to himself. Japan have two players booked for time-wasting in the first 25 minutes. The suspicion is that the ref hasn’t distinguished between time-wasting and taking your time, and this is heightened when he prepares to book a Dane for the same reason, before remembering the match situation.
In the studio, Hansen is even grumpier about Japan’s goals than Keown. But Denmark are second-best. The Rommedahl that tore Cameroon apart is bound and gagged in a car boot somewhere. Bendtner is a flagpole with a quiff (Lineker- “he says he’s the best striker in the world…bless”) and Shearer remembers that Tomasson “wasn’t prolific” at Newcastle.
Early in the second-half, Sorensen drops a floated free-kick onto the post – the ball travels deceptively quickly but Sorensen’s still at fault. Wilson drops him from the Stoke side for next season, which may be news to Tony Pulis, and thinks Sorensen will struggle to get any first-team spot (even West Ham?). Keown exhorts Denmark to “look at their height in the box compared to the Japanese” as Tulio Tanaka (6ft 1) and Yuji Nakazawa (6ft 2) line up against Tomasson (5ft 11) and Thomas Kahlenberg (6ft).
Denmark are chasing the game more dangerously than they’re being given credit for, Keown now criticising them for long-ball tactics as if someone else made the previous comment. I dunno…these lazy, ignorant TV pundits all sound the same to me. Unfortunately, the chances are falling to Daniel Agger, a defender (of sorts), and Tomasson (one fresh air swipe looks particularly gruesome in super slo-mo). None fall to Bendtner, who is booked for dissent, much to Lineker’s delight, one suspects. Keown suggests Nakazawa has “ate him all evening,” presumably meaning he’s marked him out of the game. “Premiership managers should be looking at him,” Keown adds, before Wilson informs him that 32-year-old Nakazawa has 108 caps. “Championship then,” replies Keown, trying to cover for his poor research. This, on his money, on any money, Christ, on taxpayers’ money, is a disgrace.
Soren Larson shudders the crossbar before Denmark get a penalty. “You always knew the ref was going to give them something,” suggests Keown, for no good reason at all. Denmark’s attitude is exposed by Agger handing Tomasson the ball to give him a chance to equal Denmark’s international scoring record. He’s been a goal behind for…TWO …AND…A…HALF…YEARS. And every minute of that is explained by his penalty. He nets the rebound, rather more accurately than commentators or studio pundits suggest. But he pulls a leg muscle getting the ball over the line. Appropriate, somehow.
The tournament’s goals-per-game average could be the lowest yet, as so many excellent matches haven’t had the number of goals they deserve. This one deserves four. Japan deserve three of them. And Honda’s consummate skill and selflessness delivers justice, gifting a goal to substitute Shinji Okazaki. The studio panel have rehearsed a Bentley/Honda joke. But Keown has already told us “Honda’s playing like a Rolls Royce,” which suggests that they weren’t listening to him either, fair play to them. It’s Japan v Paraguay in the last 16. Having written Denmark off hours before the end, Wilson has already told us this will be an “interesting” tie, which translates as: “we don’t know much about either of these.” You can bet Keown doesn’t.
Thanks once again go to Historical Football Kits for the use of their graphics.