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The Cup Running Over


May 21, 2010 8:47 AM

Surprise Selections (and other news) from Group E-- Netherlands, Denmark, Cameroon, and Japan

Welcome to Group E - the group which features four teams that kept together fairly stable squads throughout most of the qualifiers, meaning the provisional squad announcements offered few if any bombshells. On paper, the Dutch win the group while Cameroon and Denmark fight it out for second and Japan finishes last. The second-place finisher here could be a tournament dark horse.

  
     NETHERLANDS

The Dutch only played 25 players in qualification - the lowest of the 32 teams in South Africa - and they won every game. That's why the squad contains no new names, really, and iconic striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Hamburg) found you can't go home again as he failed in his attempt to return to the team after retiring from international duty two years ago. Yes, the uncapped striker Jermaine Lens (AZ Alkmaar) and Ajax's fullback and midfielder Vurnon Anita were named to the squad for the first time but it's unlikely they'll see action barring unexpected injuries or cards.  

As always, the Dutch will play some of the prettiest soccer in the tournament. But if past form holds true, they'll play one iffy game when it counts and go out before the finals. Still, the talent for a run is always there.

    
    DENMARK

Both Denmark and Cameroon are solid teams and whichever makes it out of the group (assuming Holland does too) will be a force to reckon with. We give the Danes the slightest of advantages primarily on the basis of pedigree: When it's made the tourney in the past, it has played very well - going 7-4-2 and never failing to get out of the group.

Denmark also has been playing well. It went through 35 players in its first few matches, but settled on a squad after that and won a very tough group, which included Portugal and Sweden, while conceding only five goals in ten games. It plays a lot like its southern neighbor, Holland, which is why when the two play, it could be hard to tell them apart if not for the jersey colors. As with Holland, there are few surprises on the squad and an Ajax youngster has gotten the call-up - in this case Christian Eriksen, an attacking midfielder said to be on Barcelona's radar screen. Goalie Thomas Sorensen (Stoke City) has been hurt but the Danes had been going with Stephan Anderson, Brondby's 28-year-old keeper anyway. As with the Dutch, this is the weakest position on the team.

   
    CAMEROON

We've already tabbed Ghana's Michael Essien to be the player of the tournament but if Cameroon can win some games (and Essien is still hurt), striker Samuel Eto'o (Inter) could be the MVP. He's still a man to watch - no matter what Essien does. If Inter wins the Champions League this weekend, he will have been the link between champions, as last year he starred for Barcelona. Goals for this team should not be a problem.

The issue is how tight the Indomitable Lions can remain at the back. The team is on the small side and some have a propensity for picking up cards. It's no surprise that defender Sebastian Bassong (Tottenham) is on the team after declaring his allegiance to Cameroon from France; he could help. So, too, could center back Aurelien Chedjou (Lille), who could well see his red card suspension from the African Nations Cup reversed. With those two in the lineup, Cameroon could be much better than expected on defense.

French manager Paul Le Guen went undefeated in the qualifiers, taking over after two games in which Cameroon had gone 0-1-1. In this excellent group, the undefeated streak may end but Cameroon still has the goods to do well enough to move on - and maybe even surprise the Italians in the next round. The Denmark game is key.


eto220106_4627t.jpgIf Cameroon makes a run, Samuel Eto'o could be the player of the tournament. (Courtesy -- UK Independent)
   
   
     JAPAN

Japanese coach Takeshi Okada has stated that his goal is a trip to the semi-finals. It's nice to aim high but it's hopelessly unrealistic. Even in an easy group, Japan wouldn't  have the talent to win many games. And in this group? Three and out.

The big news, at least in England and France, is that Okada says he has ace Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger helping him out. "I asked Wenger whether [Cameroon coach] Le Guen was a pragmatist or an idealist and he replied that he had a pragmatic style."

Good thing he cleared that up - though when you start asking Frenchmen about whether other Frenchmen are idealists or pragmatists, you have to wonder if they're thinking about Foucault and not football.

Oh yes, the team. "Okada Springs No Surprises," read one unsurprising headline, which is what one would expect from the team known at home as "Nippon Dakhyo," which translates roughly as "The Japanese Representatives." These representatives will be well organized but will have trouble scoring, which is a problem when you also have a tendency to concede. Their overall tourney record of 2-6-2 - with both victories coming at home when they co-hosted - doesn't inspire confidence. The winless streak away from home should continue. How do you say Sayonara in Japanese?


Steven and Harrison Stark are the co-authors of World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics, recently published by Blue River Press. They are analyzing the World Cup for Real Clear Sports.


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