It's our first, true, win-and-in match of third round, group play. Japan and Denmark, tied on three points in Group E, face each other to close out group play. Coming into the match with the goal difference advantage, Japan needs only a draw to go through. Regardless, there will be no scoreboard watching in this one.
Beyond the stakes, Japan-Denmark will feature a compelling clash of formations and tactics. Japan will use a five-cum-six man midfield to try and control, if not strangle, the match, where Denmark, employing only a three man midfield, is content being opportunistic. This could lead to either an extremely exciting match, if Denmark is successful busts out of their own end, or tedious one, where Japan patiently dictates the match.
It doesn't have to be that way, though, from Japan's point of view. As we've seen through their first 180 minutes of action in South Africa, Japan has the quality to compete against anybody. There are, however, questions as to whether they have the belief, their doubt exhibited in their play once they went up on Cameroon.
Whether Japan has found some belief since this weekend could be an X-factor in this match.
Japan, Going Forward: The Blue Samurai would draw out their formation as a 4-5-1, but it has played as a striker-less formation at times, a phenomenon that is a minor trend during this tournament (with three other teams employing it in spurts). For Japan, that means attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda starting at the "1" but often playing high in midfield.
This creates a numerical advantage in midfield and, when going into attack, a chance to spring onto an opposing defense with longer runs from midfield, attacking weak points in back lines lined-up to guard against more traditional forward play. Japan's goal against Cameroon was an example. As Daisuke Matsui worked along the right flank, Honda was able to run from a deeper position to the far post. Had Honda been playing a traditional striker's role, he would have already been marked, handed-off from one defender to another - always accounted for.
While not employing a traditional forward takes away many of the chances to poach goals, it gives a team the chance to pick its spots, isolate players, and force defenders to make decisions.
Denmark, Going Forward: The Danes playing 4-3-3, can offset Japan's numerical advantage in midfield by playing wide. There is, after all, only so many players Japan can employ on each flank while still trying to keep a presence in midfield.
Against Cameroon, Denmark showed how dangerous they can be down the flanks, particularly through Dennis Rommedahl. The Danes have also shown they don't need to do much get the ball to Rommedahl and Thomas Kahlenburg. Morten Olsen has his non-attacking players deployed so deep, the finding space on the wings is not an issue. If Jpan tries to close that space, Rommedahl can run past them onto long balls.
This weekend, Denmark was able to convert their wide play into goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Rommedahl. That formula could still work today, but instead of keeping the ball on the ground, Denmark may have to go to the air to finish their chances against the Japanese.
How The Match Turns: Japan's reverence for Dennis Rommedahl's speed will have them play off the right-sided attacker. Denmark will be opportunities similar to the one Nicklas Bendtner missed early in the match against the Netherlands. If Denmark converts one of those chances and forces Japan to open up their attack, the match completely flips, with a Japan team that would have advanced with a draw purposing the goal they need to advance. If Denmark goes not score early, Japan will try to strangle the match in midfield.