Denmark 1-3 Japan

Posted: June 24, 2010 in Pubs, World Cup
Tags: , , ,

The night is hot as hell. I’m in a lousy room in a lousy part of town.

So says Frank Miller’s Marv. He was talking about sleeping with the soon-to-be-murdered-by-creepy-Frodo prostitute in a filthy motel, but he could equally have been talking about watching Denmark against Japan in the Nordic Bar off Oxford Street. Although I would probably have disagreed with his opinion on the place, despite smelling slightly of Scandinavian piss it is a pretty nice place that I would definitely stop into again on a night out.

I really wanted to put “pretty cool” there but that really would have been beyond a joke. Rarely if ever have I been as hot as I was in this place. Not helped by its positioning in the centre of town, where temperatures were already in the late 20s, it’s also in a basement. As you descend the outside stairs, you feel a wave of heat hitting you in the face. “No problem,” I said. “That’s just the aircon spitting out the hot air from inside and replacing it with cool.” (I have no real idea how air-conditioning works, but it strikes me that this doesn’t seem that illogical a method).

How wrong I was. Inside it was H to the O to the T, making the snowflake stamp that had been imprinted on my wrist on the door seem like some kind of sick joke. There was indeed a large air-conditioning unit installed on the ceiling of the main room, but it seemed to be for decorate purposes only. A big window was also open by the staircase entrance, but that also seemed to be there just for the hell of it. It was also pretty busy and the walls were sweating.

This is mainly due to the fact that Nordic Bar was full of sweaty men. And I mean men. Hulking, bearded Scandinavian beasts. The kind of men that drink beer from the empty skulls of their enemies. I had been listening to viking metallers Amon Amarth on the way down to get myself even more in the mood but even that failed to prepare me for the beardage on show.

There were plenty of London ponces as well, by the way, and at least as many women, none of whom were bearded (that I could see), so it wasn’t as though I’d wandered onto the set of a Scissor Sisters music video. Nonetheless I felt highly inferior drinking my glass of coke from a straw (no more drinking for me until at least tomorrow).

Nordic Bar has the skins of animals on its walls. That’s how cool (sorry) it is.

To return somewhat laboriously to the “lousy part of town” thing, it turns out that while we were stuffing our faces in the wonderful Eagle Bar & Diner (I would eat here every night if I was rich and had no regard for my waistline), shit was going down just round the corner. Oxford Street was shut off for about an hour after some silly sod chucked bleach out of a window and caused a chemical scare. Luckily we decided to wander up Rathbone Place towards Nordic Bar, instead of the other way. Oblivious as a result.

To the game. The scenario: Denmark needed to win. A draw and Japan would go through on goal difference, with both sides having beaten Cameroon but Japan only losing to Holland by a single goal rather than the two shipped by the Danes. It was perfectly set up, especially after the entertaining fare on show when Denmark played Cameroon last Sunday, with neither side seemingly bothered about defending.

For the first 20 minutes or so here, I was remarking upon the stupidity of Denmark being 36th in the FIFA rankings while England sit somewhere in the upper echelons. They were passing, moving, and looking extremely dangerous with Japan struggling to cope with the movement of the front three of John Dahl Tomasson, Dennis Rommedahl and Nicklas Bendtner and the incisive passing of Christian Poulsen. Tomasson botched their best opening by attempting a bicycle kick when a head would’ve sufficed, the ball missing his foot by a good three feet which in my opinion is some achievement.

But suddenly I was beginning to get an idea of why Denmark are ranked where they are. Their defending was woeful, statuesque as Sorensen was forced to spread himself to save a close-range flick, then criminally lazy as Hasebe fired one a foot wide of the top corner, brilliantly clipping the behind-goal camera en route. Oof!

Every shaky moment at the back was met by a strange “ayeeeee” noise from the Danish fans. One bloke was trying to explain to an American girl that this was the noise she should make at exciting/nervous moments. There were a lot of them in this game.

The first of them came minutes after Hasebe’s camera assault. There didn’t seem much danger when Japan were awarded a freekick a good 30-35 yards from goal, on the angle. But Keisuke Honda swung his left boot at the ball and positively twatted it into the far corner of the net with Sorensen grasping at air. I thought he probably should have saved it; the ball dipped a bit but didn’t swerve unnaturally, and he’d made that crucial mistake of a misjudged half-step to his left anticipating that the shot would go there. Despite all that, it was a fucking brilliant strike from Honda, if Ronaldo had bashed that we’d never hear the end of it.

The Danes were shaken, and couldn’t keep possession. Still, there wasn’t too much worry when Japan were awarded another freekick, central and “too close” as I half-joked, expecting Honda to have another dip. As it was, my initial surprise that he wasn’t going to take it was replaced by amazement when Endo clipped an absolute beauty, every inch the perfect freekick, into Sorenson’s inside-netting. It was a gorgeous strike, befitting of every slow-motion replay it got, particularly the one that showed it starting wide of goal before swerving deliciously past the keeper. All tournament we’ve seen players fucking up freekicks and bemoaning the ball, yet here were two sublime long-range freekicks nestled in the net inside 15 minutes of each other.

Half-time came soon after, and with it the comical sight of the entire bar emptying with everyone scurrying upstairs to get some air and find somewhere to perch. Never has central London smog tasted so good.

The second half saw a Danish siege, but never one with much control. Japan didn’t allow it; they look a ludicrously fit side and pressured everything, often winning the ball in the Danish half or forcing hurried clearances. A wonderfully English mini-game emerged, with Morten Olsen chucking on his big lads to join Bendnter and Tomasson and basically just loading the ball into the box at every opportunity. It sort of worked; the Danes creating plenty of half-chances (and a few really good ones out of them) but precious few shots that emerged as a result of good interplay/crossing. It was a bit like watching the Blades on a good day where the hit-and-hope comes off.

Saying that, they really should have got a goal back in the first 20 minutes or so of the half. I remember Bendtner fucking one up but I can’t quite remember what he did. Arsenal fans: it is not just you that think Bendtner is a bit of a donkey. There was some serious frustration being poured in his direction from the Danes. Myself, I can’t work out whether there’s a semi-decent player there or not. Sometimes I watch him and think “that’s great centre-forward play” and others I think “what the fuck was that”. This was more the latter.

One player I think I have definitely worked out is John Dahl Tomasson. I had him as one of my “ten to watch” at the start of the tourney on the basis that he was wank for Newcastle yet had managed to build a good reputation for himself elsewhere. Well, JD, you’re still shit. The ball was squared to him on the edge of the six yard box with only the keeper to beat and instead of kicking the ball into the net like any self-respecting footballer would do, he contrived to kick it with both feet. Sideways. Before that his heavy touch (again in the box) had half-boned a good chance, which he then elevated to fully-boned by prodding it wide. The ref took sympathy and gave a corner.

Long-range efforts had stung the Japanese keeper’s palms and smacked off the underside of the bar (hell of a shot) but before a replay could be shown of the latter, the Danes won a penalty when Agger went down. It was an achingly obvious penalty, as soon as the ball bounced up you just knew that a) Agger would throw himself at it, b) the defender would push him in the back and c) the referee would do the right thing. Nonetheless it was Tomasson given the responsibility; he took one of the shittest penalties yet seen and then his clip into the corner on the rebound was either big balls in a pressure situation or an almost-titanic fuck-up.

This came after 80 minutes; still time, but barely. Denmark never came close though, and at the other end Honda showed all kinds of class with a devastatingly clever flick-and-turn and then a simple square ball for Okazaki to roll the ball apologetically into the net. The Danes were done and a few part-timers even snook off early. Poor.

One thing I have to get straight here is just how bloody good the Japanese were. Fit, yes, but technically superb, their control and skill on the ball was great to watch. Honda looked incredible, up there with Forlan as the best performance by a forward so far. Not a big man, but his hold-up play was first-class thanks to his tremendous touch and then direct running. His goal will undoubtedly be one of the finest of WC2010 and the little trick to set up the clincher was genuinely breathtaking. Expect to see him linked to every mid-range Premier League club for the rest of the summer.

A cracking game then, although my record of supporting teams in bars at this tournament so far took a tumble. By my reckoning it now stands at won two (England and Mexico), drawn five (South Africa, Uruguay, England twice, Paraguay), lost two (Denmark, Honduras). Relegation form to be fair, but then I have been generally supporting the underdog.

Finally – who would’ve thought that Cameroon would be going home with 0 points, perhaps the only team to do so?

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