DURBAN, South Africa: Wesley Sneijder fired the Netherlands to a comfortable 1-0 win over Japan and pole position in World Cup Group E here on Saturday.
After seeing off Denmark 2-0 in their opening match, the Dutch now sit atop their group on a maximum six points from two games, with Japan on three points having beaten Cameroon 1-0 in their opener.
Should Denmark and Cameroon draw in Pretoria later on Saturday, the Netherlands will be guaranteed a berth in the second round, but a victory for either side would mean the Oranje were still not mathematical certs to progress.
The Netherlands dominated possession and territory against the Blue Samurai, who played deep in defence and were largely content to sit back while the star-studded Dutch team stroked the ball around the middle of the park.
After a first-half devoid of any real scoring opportunities and with Japan on top in the final minutes, the Dutch came out firing in the second period.
Japan`s Brazil-born defender Tulio Tanaka was called on to make four clearing headers in quick succession, but the fifth fell to the feet of Robin van Persie in the 53rd minute.
Under pressure, the Arsenal striker saw the ball squirt out to the edge of the area, where it was met by the booming right foot of Sneidjer, the Inter Milan midfielder unleashing a shot which Eiji Kawashima could only deflect into the goal netting.
But it was not all plain sailing for the Netherlands, who often became bogged down in midfield.
Sneijder had arguably the first chance of the game, blasting a free-kick high over the goal.
Daisuke Matsui impressed in midfield for Japan and saw one low shot go just past the upright of Maarten Stekelenburg`s goal, the Dutch keeper then doing well to parry the Grenoble player`s dipping 25-metre shot.
Van Persie had two decent chances early in the second-half, first seeing his header saved by Kawashima and then failing to connect with a sliding half-volley.
Dutch replacement Ibrahim Afellay saw a late effort well saved by Kawashima and the defence scramble away another attempt on goal with two minutes to play.
As regulation time was called, Japanese replacement Shinji Okazaki found himself with an excellent chance to level the scores, but his twisting effort in the Dutch box was blasted over the crossbar.
BDST: 1203hrs, June 20, 2010