Group E: Cameroon, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands

This group should be easy, at least on paper. The Netherlands were the first team to qualify for the World Cup from Europe, are formidable in defense, strong in the midfield and have some better than decent options on the attack.

Tactically, the defense should consist of John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen as the center backs with the seemingly ageless Giovanni van Bronckhorst in what should be his international swan song at left back and Gregory van der Wiel on the right. Edwin van der Saar who still could have probably done a fine job as keeper, has retired and I’m not as familiar with his replacement, Maarten Stekelenburg, but I hear good things about him. Van der Saar is clearly going to be a hard act to follow. The midfield defense will be borne by Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, the latter best remembered for a nasty foul on the USA’s Stuart Holden in an apparently in-name-only friendly that fractured his fibula.

The key to Holland’s attack will be the skills of their marvelous playmaker, Wesley Sneijder, with support from wingers Arjen Robben and Eljero Elia. Robin van Persie rounds out the attack as an excellent target. In addition, the Dutch are terrific on set pieces with Robben, Sneijder and van Persie all excellent with free kicks.

Denmark is not quite the Denmark of the recent past, but should still have enough talent to get through. Thomas Sorensen is a fine keeper and has proven himself a worthy successor to Peter Schmiechel. The only defenders I have any familiarity with, however, are Daniel Agger, who has come up short in terms of playing time for Liverpool and Simon Kjaer, who could be a breakout defender for this WC. Kjaer is very fast for a defender and an excellent target on set pieces.

When I think of Danish midfielders of the recent past, the one who comes to mind immediately is Stig Tofting, a man who was a vigorous defender, but carried a lot of baggage of the disciplinary kind, once spending four months in jail for head-butting a bar owner. I’ve seen Christian Pulsen play with Seville and Juventus and he strikes me as Stig Tofting without the baggage. On the offensive midfield side, look for the still speedy Dennis Rommedahl, Jesper Gronkjaer and possibly Jakob Poulsen, especially if he’s healthy.

If they have two forwards, I’m not sure who they will pair with Nicklas Bendtner, the reigning Danish player of the year. Bendtner is a very physical sort of attacker, excellent in the air and would probably score many more goals if he was a better finisher. Jon Dahl Tomasson may be brought in for his experience to complement Bendtner’s youth.

Cameroon was the breakthrough team from Africa at the 1990 World Cup. The seemingly ageless Roger Milla scored four goals in that competition when he was 38 – and scored another goal four years later making him the oldest scorer in World Cup  history. Recent appearances in the World Cup, however, have seen them manage only one win, beating Saudi Arabia, a team that gave up 12 goals and scored none, 1-0.

The players I am most familiar with are Carlos Kameni, their number one keeper for the past several years and who, in his club role at Espanyol managed to shut out Barcelona last season, Geremi, a very well-traveled defender currently playing in Turkey, Alex Song, a defensive midfielder who plays for Arsenal, Stephane Mbia a fine defensive midfielder for Marseille, and of course, Samuel Et0’o, the marvelous, speedy striker. I’m going to imagine they pair him with Pierre Webo who plays for Mallorca. I can get excited about African teams as I have in the past once play starts: Cameroon in 1990, Nigeria in 1994 and 1998 and Senegal in 2002. I can’t get excited about Cameroon this time.

Japan’s players play largely in Japan’s J-League and I don’t see much of them. I have seen them in friendlies recently, including one game in which they lost to England 2-1, but have the distinction of scoring all three goals. I really can’t see them winning a game against any of their opponents.

Here are my comments on Group A, Group B, Group C and Group D.

Cross-posted at Beautiful Horizons.

17 replies
  1. 1
    Brandon says:

    No room for van der Vaart eh? The laughably awful Boulahrouz? The all endeavor and no product of Kuyt? Or the institutional entrenchment of Oranje to the 4-3-3? Or the ability of van Bommel to anchor the midfield in such a formation. The most likely starting midfielders and forwards for the Dutch are:
    Sneijder - van Bommel - van der Vaart
    van Persie - Kuyt - Robben

    While van Persie typically plays centrally for Arsenal, he has been deployed from the right wing for Oranje with regularity. van Bommel is likely to suffer card accumulation because of his lack of pace and physical ability at his age, so it would be highly likely to see de Jong play about half of their matches.

  2. 2
    burnspbesq says:

    Is it confirmed that Eto’o is going to play? There was talk last week that he might miss the WC due to hurt fee-fees after Milla said something nasty about him.

  3. 3
    Bill Murray says:

    Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong of Spurs seem likely to feature for Cameroon.

    Soren Larsen was the high scorer in Denmark’s qualifying group (which included Portugal and Sweden) so is likely to have Bendtner partner him, although they are rather similar players

  4. 4
    Bill Murray says:

    @burnspbesq: He was named Captain and played (and was red carded) after the Milla incident, so it seems likely he’s going to play

  5. 5
    wengler says:

    Robben looks doubtful for the World Cup after getting injured in the Dutch thrashing of Hungary in a friendly this weekend.

    I think the Netherlands suffers deeply from what I call “Gunner syndrome”. They are a small plucky team that play a beautiful style of football and they get their results, but in the end just like Wenger’s squads of recent years they don’t have what it takes to win the entire thing.

    I don’t see the Dutchmen having a problem advancing out of this group but once they hit a major they will crash out. Their European qualifying group was fairly soft with Scotland and Norway being their main competition. And though I see them being a trendy outsider pick(aren’t they always), they will get defeated in the quarters.

  6. 6
    Violet says:

    Happened to see the last few minutes of the NBC Nightly News tonight. They had a segment on the US World Cup team and the World Cup in general. They said that more tickets for the World Cup have been sold in the US than in any country other than the host country, so I guess we must have a few fans here. I think they said the US was ranked 14th in the world? That’s higher than I thought.

    Link to video.

  7. 7
    Mark S. says:

    Go Oranje! They break my heart every time, but they’ll win this group at least.

    And . . . . I don’t know, Denmark?

  8. 8
    jp2 says:

    USA is 14th, we were at 6th a few years ago IIRC.

    We have a delightfully easy qualifying group and we shouldn’t ever have problems making it to the finals, so that’s positive.

    Almost all of our players now have extensive overseas experience and it pays off. We’ll start being contenders for the latter stages in 6-7 cups methinks.

  9. 9
    Americanadian says:

    @wengler: I would have also liked some discussion about Robben’s injury as well. How bad is it, will he be able to play in the single-elimination matches (the Dutch can probably get out of this group with or without him) and what, if anything, do they have to replace him with if he’s out for the duration?

  10. 10
    SRW1 says:

    I am with wengler: considering the talent level of their players, Holland just seems to struggle when they have to put together a consistent run for a whole tournament.

    Case in point: Euro 2008. The Dutch totally dominated their group and looked like THE in form team. Then in the knock-out stage they run into Russia and get dismantled and sent home almost without resistance.

    With Robben and van Persie the Dutch attack has some awesome firepower, but especially Robben is injury-prone and now doubtful after pulling a muscle in the match against Hungary.

    I still think Holland is the clear group favorite, but after that a quick exit wouldn’t be all that surprising.

  11. 11
    Some immigrant guy says:

    Robben is probably out, but agree generally that on paper this is Holland’s group to win. Usually there’s massive ructions in the Dutch team, but apparently not this year which perhaps bodes well for them.

    Denmark v Cameroon for the second place in this group, but probably Denmark for me. Cameroon aren’t the force they once were, and Denmark are another team that impressed in European qualifiers. Bendtner is a real handful, on him Denmark can typically over-perform, it’s what they seem to do every time they participate in a major competition.

  12. 12

    Hoping the dutch can pull off at least a semi-final this time; I always think they’re a bit like Spain in the World Cup, a side that should do far better but suffer awful collapses at the worst possible time.

    It’d be nice to see Japan get out of the group stage, but I’m not holding my breath – they’ve got talented players, but they’re supported by too many mediocre ones. Still, I’d stick a tenner on midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura to score another one of these belters at some point…

  13. 13

    …Or one of these, for that matter.

  14. 14
    Randy Paul says:

    @Brandon: Actually, they were using a bit of a 4-5-1 to start with.

    Van Bommel is the coach’s son-in-lw, by the way, but I agree about his temper. Expect Boulahrouz to be riding the pine. I expect Kuyt to be a super sub. Van der Waart has been recovering from injuries IIRC and has struggled for time at Real.

    I heard last night that Robben still expects to play and that his injury is not that bad. Who knows?

  15. 15
    babieca says:


    US was 6th and is 14th in the FIFA rankings, who have changed how they are calculated, between the time we were ranked 6th and now. This ranking artificially boosts the US during World Cup qualify because we play relatively weaker teams in CONCACAF.

    The ELO rankings are a much better indicator of a team’s relative strength. The US is currently ranked 20 according to the ELO (14th best in the WC) and was nowhere near as high as the 6th or 4th we were before the 06 cup.

  16. 16
    Some immigrant guy says:

    @Randy Paul: BBC reporting that Robben will be able to play “later in the tournament”.

    In my book, that’s a punt that the injury turns out to be not too bad, and that they don’t have an obvious replacement for Robben. Should not however prevent Holland from winning this group, they are pretty strong squad.

  17. 17
    DBaker says:

    @SRW1: Case in point: Euro 2008. The Dutch totally dominated their group and looked like THE in form team. Then in the knock-out stage they run into Russia and get dismantled and sent home almost without resistance.

    This was a classic case of “Spain beat Russia 4-1 and we have 5 players from Real Madrid on our team, so they must be crap” which always effects the Dutch at some point during a tournament; the game vs. S & M in 2006 turned out to be much more of a battle than they reckoned leaving them to lose to Euro Greasy and his diving friends in Nurnberg. Of course there was also the issue that a certain Mr. Hiddink coached the Russian team; a Russian team that lost the very next game.

    The same core group of players are together now as were there in 2006 as well as 2008, but Van Marwijk is a much better coach than Marco Van Basten. I think that the road is wide open for a semi final run, at least this year, as Brazil will have a heavy road to travel to get to the quarters and I don’t think the Dutch will IF they get there. The proverbial banana peel game will be the runner-up in Group F. Remember that Brazil has always been a good match up for the Dutch and their 2 last WC losses to them were on PKs (with Kluivert hitting the post in OT) and a clear Romario off-side goal in ’94 in Dallas.

    As far as Robben goes, the latest word is that it’s only a minor hamstring tear and he will be off the field for 5-7 days. That probably means a no-go vs. Denmark, which is fine as they have about a huge winning record against them, but ready to play vs. Cameroon, which is when they really need him.

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