A pair of stunning, set-piece strikes helped Japan defeat Denmark, 3-1, and clinch a spot in the Round of 16 today in a dramatic winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home match at the World Cup.
Keisuke Honda scored Japan's first goal in the 17th minute when he sent a bullet into the side netting for his second goal of the tournament and an early lead. The ball barely spun as it shot over the wall and past Denmark's diving goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen. In the 30th minute, Yusuhito Endo decided to one-up him. He curled a ball around the wall and into the lower right corner for another picture-perfect blast. Japan proved early on it was the hungrier team.
PHOTOS: 2010 World Cup highlights
Both teams added a second-half goal to ensure Denmark would miss out on the Round of 16 for the first time in its previous four tournament appearances. Japan moves on to face Paraguay in its next match. The masters of Group E, the Dutch, defeated Cameroon, 2-1, to claim the top spot and a date with Slovakia in the next round.
The field for the Round of 16 is 75 percent complete, with Groups G and H finishing up play Friday. Brazil and Portugal are virtual locks to emerge from Group G while Group H, featuring Spain, is still a wide-open race.
The Americans' pod of four teams is set, and lucky for them, it appears to be the easiest. The U.S. faces Ghana on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC) and if it wins, will play the winner of Uruguay-South Korea in the quarterfinals. Its draw is favorable compared to what England has to deal with on the other side of the bracket with a Round of 16 match-up with Germany followed by the winner of Argentina-Mexico.
The bottom half of the United States' side of the draw features the Netherlands, Slovakia, the winner of Group G and the runner-up in Group H.
The bottom half of England's side of the bracket features Paraguay, Japan, the winner of Group H and the runner-up in Group G.
In Group G, the so-called Group of Death, Brazil (6 points, +3 GD) and Portugal (4 points, +7 GD) are virtual locks to advance due to Brazil's 2-0 record and Portugal's ridiculous goal differential. The two powerhouses face off tomorrow with the winner taking the top spot. If they tie, Brazil has the advantage based on record.
In Group H, tournament favorite Spain (3 points, +1 GD) still needs to win to ensure a spot in the next round. It faces group-leaders Chile (6 points, +2 GD), which despite owning six points, isn't a lock either. Switzerland (3 points, 0 GD) faces a winless Honduras (0 points, -3 GD) in the other game. If the Spaniards and Swiss both win, we'll have a three-way tie and tiebreakers will determine who stays and who goes home. Spain would automatically advance because if it wins, it will therefore have a better goal differential than Chile. If Spain and Chile tie, the Swiss can leapfrog Spain into the Round of 16 with a win, but not a tie. Get it?