Saturday Review: Groups D and E - Netherlands Through, Cameroon Out, and Everything Else Up For Grabs
The Netherlands continues with a perfect record in this tournament, but one suspects this team is anything but perfect. A Wesley Sneijder screamer, fumbled in by Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, earned the Dutch all three points in a 1-0 game, but the Brilliant Orange was lacking the rhythm and urgency that most have come to expect of them. Once again, the introduction of Ibrahim Affelay seemed to add the spark that the Dutch are missing - - he really should start the next match. Japan did very well for the second match in a row, keeping its defensive shape, and even registering more shots than the Dutch despite being out-possessed 60-40. Don't let two clean sheets mislead you: this Durch defense is leaky, and unless the attack rediscovers its usual flair, the Flying Dutchmen will be flying home in the next round.
Stop fretting, Socceroos - - your forward crisis is over because Harry Kewell is back! Or, he was back until he got sent off for blocking a shot with his hand only 25 minutes into the game. Australia started superbly, winning the midfield battle and even taking the lead through yet another goalkeeping blunder. But, after picking up its second red card in as many games, Australia's grip on the game loosened, and after Ghana equalized through Asamoah Gyan's penalty, the Aussies never found their rhythm again. Ghana controlled the game, but without Michael Essien's creativity, could never make the final killer ball to split the Australian defense and the game remained 1-1. When Sulley Muntari finally came on, he looked out of place after his recent injury problems. Even with 10 men though, Australia gave Ghana a few scares with some excellent counter-attacking in the second half too - - a sign that this Ghanaian defense isn't as airtight as we might have thought. And although the Black Stars still lead the group, they have a tough encounter against Germany in the final group match. Australia's chances look grim, but the rest of this group is still wide open.
A real nail-biting finale to the day. Cameroon took an early lead through a Christian Poulsen mistake, but Denmark fought back to score two and win 2-1, and probably deserved more. Denmark looked hapless in the final third, throwing away several chances, but looked excellent at the back, especially during Cameroon's late onslaught in the final 15 minutes (plus the Danes set a World Cup record, finishing the match with no less than three Poulsens on the field). There were fewer positives for Cameroon - its defense in particular was dreadful - but the late addition of Vincent Aboubakar, the second youngest player at the tournament, lit up the Cameroonian attack. He's one to keep an eye on in the future, but his tournament is done after the next match. The Indomitable Lions are now the first team to be mathematically eliminated. Looks like those gold watches didn't do much good.