The Cup Running Over

June 13, 2010 5:00 PM

Monday Preview: Group E (Holland-Denmark and Cameroon-Japan) and Italy-Paraguay

Today should see an increase in scoring - at least in one game - and tactically at least two of the three matches should be interesting.
This should be the most wide-open game of the tournament so far between two northern European teams that, perhaps unsurprisingly, play in similar styles. Both teams like to attack and both traditionally tend to do well in the opening round. As usual, Holland will swarm the opposition, creating numerous chances from midfield and the wings with stalwarts Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart feeding Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie -who should be one of the Cup's high scorers. It can score and score beautifully in the Dutch tradition. The team is weaker at the back (Mark Von Bommel is key and must keep his temper in check) and goal is a question mark with Maarten Steklenberg but he should at least be assured that he can't do as badly as Algeria's and England's keepers have done so far.
Denmark won a tough group in qualification (with Portugal and Sweden) and likes to attack on the counter from the wings with forward Nicklas Bendtner roaming all over the field, often in a fluid 4-3-3. There have question marks over his fitness this week, and the Danes need him to play and play well if they are to be at their most dangerous. In midfield, the Danes aren't as good as the Dutch - which could be the difference in an entertaining game - but they may well be better on defense, a traditional Dutch weakness. Watch for possibly three Poulsens in the Danish starting lineup - believed to be a World Cup record, not that it means anything other than they all need to have good games.
Cameroon has struggled recently and Japan has never won a World Cup game away from home turf so expect a somewhat turgid game that favors the Indomitable Lions -both because it has perhaps the best striker in the tournament, Samuel Eto'o, and yet another underrated keeper, Carlos Kameni. (The outstanding performance of the keepers from Africa has been the revelation of the tournament so far.) Look for Cameroon to look to get Eto'o the ball at every opportunity, principally from ace midfielders Jean II Makoun and Alexander Song - perhaps the most formidable such pair in the tourney. The danger for this team? Cards - principally at the back, which has been known to play physically - sometimes too much so.
Japan plays predictably in its 4-5-1 and tends to be dangerous, really, only on set pieces because it indulges in one too many short passes. The back line is not particularly strong so the Japanese will be looking to prevail through ball control. It might work if Cameroon gets careless but probably won't.
As attractive as the first game of the day promises to be, the last one will be as ugly. The two strongest teams in weak Group F (at least on paper) will meet in a game that should feature lots of fouling, lots of midfield possession, but few goals, if any. Italy tends to start slow in tournaments, so it will be looking to try to get an early goal and then "park the bus."  Without the injured Andrea Pirlo in midfield, last tourney's MVP, the team may struggle to create chances, however.
Paraguay, too, is not known as an offensive force and has tended to rely on one man in its 4-5-1 to get it goals - the frequently injured Roque Santa Cruz. Another man to watch today is striker Lucas Barrios, naturalized a month ago, who has had three goals in the three friendlies he's played so far and if he keeps it up, could open up the team's options. The rest of the squad, however, isn't that good.  The midfield is fast but tends to lack penetration into the final third and the defense is aging. This will dictate a slow game. - chess in slow motion.  If it comes down to keeper performance, the defending champion Italy has the edge with the incomparable Gigi Buffon - Justo Villar of Paraguay isn't as good. 

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