The Netherlands put themselves on the brink of qualification for the last 16 with a hard-fought victory in Durban over an impressively stubborn Japan side.
Wesley Sneijder's powerful 52nd-minute winner from just outside the box settled a fascinating Group E contest between two contrasting sides who opened up in the second half and were creating good chances right up to the final whistle.
The Dutch will qualify for the knockout stages before their final group game if Cameroon fail to beat Denmark later on Saturday, and are still likely to go through regardless.
Japan came into the match off the back of their first World Cup win on foreign soil after beating Cameroon 1-0 on Monday.
And the afterglow of that historic achievement was evident in the admirable tactical nous they executed in the first half as they stifled the Netherlands' search for fluid creativity with regimental efficiency in front of a near-full Moses Mabhida Stadium.
The Dutch, who are now unbeaten in 21 matches, started like a team full of quiet confidence as they kept possession well and used the width of Dirk Kuyt on the right and Rafael van der Vaart on the left.
Inter Milan midfielder Sneijder had the first clear chance but, on this occasion, could not keep his long-range shot, from a free-kick, down - a common sight in South Africa as players struggle to tame the much-criticised Jabulani ball.
When they did break up the Netherlands' passing, Grenoble midfielder Daisuke Matsui looked bright for Japan - instigating an incisive move that eventually resulted in Yuto Nagatomo hitting a stinging shot just wide.
The Asian side slowly began to frustrate the Dutch, who struggled to bring striker Robin van Persie into the game and lacked a killer pass.
And by the end of the first half Japan had relative control, with towering Brazilian-born defender Tulio heading just wide before Matsui lashed a decent volley straight at goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
But the Netherlands - who have never won the World Cup, despite a rich pedigree of world-class footballers - took the second half by the scruff of the neck, with Van Persie breaking free on a couple of occasions.
After a period of concerted pressure as the ball ricocheted around the box in the 52nd minute, the Arsenal striker managed to nudge it into the path of Sneijder.
Loitering just outside the penalty area, the Inter Milan star lashed a powerful right-foot shot towards goal that keeper Eiji Kawashima could only deflect into the net when he was well placed to make an effective save.
That moment liberated both teams and no longer could containment tactics be the limit of Japan's ambitions.
They responded in kind, Van Persie finding himself hooking a dangerous cross from substitute Shunsuke Nakamura over his own crossbar from within the six-yard box.
Hamburg's Eljero Elia came on as a substitute for Van der Vaart and nearly recreated the impression he had from the bench in the Netherlands' first match, cleverly releasing Ibrahim Allelay for a one on one, although his fellow substitute could not add a second with seven minutes remaining as Kawashima smothered his attempt.
Japan had the best chance to level the score one minute from time but unmarked substitute Shinji Okazaki fired over from 10 yards.
Seconds later, referee Hector Baldassi waved away penalty claims as Yuto Nagatomo went down under a challenge from Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong and the Dutch clung on to achieve maximum points from their opening two fixtures.
Cameroon play Denmark at 1930 BST in the fourth group E match.
Attempts on target
Attempts off target
Projected table based on current scores
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|Group E teams||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||PTS|
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|Group G teams||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||PTS|