World Cup Round Up: Groups E and F

In Football on June 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Group E

Dutch Cruise As Japan Down Denmark

The Netherlands largely lived up to their pre-tournament billing as potential winners as they bagged a perfect three wins from three. At the other end of the scale, Cameroon’s less than indomitable lions failed to snag a point, while Japan came out on top in their winner takes all showdown with Denmark in the final fixture.

The Dutch have a frightening array of attacking talent to choose from

Strolling home in first place with all the laid back calm of an Amsterdam cafe owner, Holland will be absolutely delighted with how things have worked out. The Danes really put it up to them in the first match, before finally crumbling in the second half, before a hard-fought win over the plucky Japanese confirmed their passage to the second round. A point was needed against Cameroon to confirm top spot (and the favourable side of the draw), and despite conceding their first goal from the penalty spot, some Robben magic eased them to their third win on the bounce.

They now face the limited Slovakians, and will be confident of a quarter final appearance. If Robben can stay fit, they are a ferocious prospect going forward. Attacking options like Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar are up there with the very best. Van Persie and Huntelaar both found the target against Cameroon after being set up by van der Vaart and Robben. Following hot on the heels of Sneijder’s two man of the match efforts in the opening games, they look in ominously good nick.

At the back was always likely to be the Netherlands Achilles heel, but they have yet to concede from open play. Admittedly, Japan and Denmark hardly went after them, but the Slovaks won’t hold too many demons either. Ably shielded by van Bommel and de Jong, Joris Mathijsen and Jonny Heitinga have looked comfortable. Hopefully, talented full backs Gregory van der Wiel and Gio van Bronckhorst will inject more adventure into the Dutch play. The return of Robben will give them more width, and they will be very difficult to contain.

The surprise of the group were the excellent Japan. A hard-fought win over Cameroon was shown to be no fluke as they almost shut

Yasuhito Endo celebrates his pinpoint free kick against Denmark

down the Dutch, even threatening a late equaliser against their illustrious opponents. Tulio Tanaka has been a colossus at the back, and Keisuke Honda has been their star player in attack.

‘Star players’ aren’t what has got them to this stage of the competition though. Tireless effort, excellent organisation and admirable discipline have been the foundation of their performances. They don’t give anything away cheaply, and will be secretly pleased to have drawn Paraguay, who they have a real chance against

Trailing in a disappointing third were Denmark. An opening loss to the Netherlands was to be expected, and they produced their best performance in a comeback win over Cameroon. Elementary errors and individual mistakes cost them against Japan though. A goalkeeper of Thomas Sorensen’s calibre should have known better then to give Honda and Endo targets to hit when setting up his wall. The dead-eyed duo obliged by cracking a couple of pinpoint free kicks into the corner of the net, and with only 20 minutes on the clock, the game was up.

On the positive side, Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer are a partnership for the future in the heart of defence, and they showed excellent tactical awareness in stifling the Dutch for the majority of their clash. On the flip side, they lack depth. When they needed to mix things up, they didn’t have the options, and apart from the Cameroon win, they weren’t able to change the flow of the game. Up front, Nicklas Bendner is developing well, but he needs a partner with more to offer than the aging Jon Dahl Tomasson.

There is hope for the future in Denmark, but the same could not be said for the fourth placed Cameroon. Hopes were not high in the African camp ahead of this campaign, and we all saw why. They looked bereft of inspiration against the Japanese, before throwing away a lead against Denmark which put them out of the tournament at the first hurdle.

Of their key personnel, only Sebastin Bassong and Nicholas N’Koulou at the back and Alex Song in the centre of the park will be the right side of 30 when the next World Cup rolls round, and if the youngsters couldn’t force their way into this squad it raises questions over their quality.

Let’s hope they can recover, because the sight of a Cameroon side in full flow is one which adds something to every World Cup.

Group F

The holders crash out as Sovakia and Paraguay advance

Yet again, this group went down to the very last kick. Unfortunately for Italy, that kick came the corkscrew-footed Pepe, who missed a golden chance to save Italy’s title defence. So, for the first time in history, both of the finalists from the last tournament see their bids fizzle out at the group stage. Slovakia get their reward, while Paraguay top the ledger and the gallant Kiwis head home undefeated.

Nelson Valdez has impressed so far

Paraguay, described as ‘surprise packages’ in many quarters, showed their quality and coasted home in first place. Fears over their goalkeeper Justo Villar were never realised after he gifted the Italians an equaliser in the opener, as they harried and hassled anyone that threatened.

Their pressing game makes it very difficult to find space, and in Nelson Valdez they have a striker who suits their system perfectly. Valdez is able to hold up the ball, beat men and bring his team-mates into the game. He also took his goal against Slovakia very well, and the Paraguayans will fancy their chances against Japan in the second round.

Slovakia scraped through in the end, but deservedly so after they slayed the giants of Italy in a thrilling final game. They came into that one as massive underdogs, having jittered their way to a 1-1 draw with New Zealand and been soundly outplayed by Paraguay in what turned out to be the key meeting in the group.

They showed real guts in fighting their way into the knockout stages, but remain a limited team. The Netherlands await in the next

Target man Robert Vittek fires Slovakia through

round, and will have watched the Italian game with interest. They will have seen that Robert Vittek is the key to their straight-forward approach, and if they can cut him out of the game, the Slovakians have little else to fall back on. Marek Hamsik is a cut above his team-mates, but will probably have to shake off the attentions of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong in the tough tackling defensive shield the Dutch favour.

In an improbable turn of events, New Zealand managed to annex 3rd place in this group. Even more amazingly, they finished unbeaten with three draws. In fact, had Chris Wood managed to get a touch on a dangerous cross late on, they would have found themselves facing the Japanese for a place in the quarter finals.

The All-Whites will be more than satisfied with their campaign though, and in their 1-1 draw with the World Champions, have a result to savour for all time.

Speaking of Italy, I may be the only non-Italian on the planet to have real sympathy for the deposed champions. Already robbed of the services of Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti for various reasons, when Gianluigi Buffon limped off at half time against Paraguay the heart and soul had been ripped from the side.

Still, Lippi will have some difficult questions to answer upon his return home. The reliance on air-headed winger Simone Pepe and the

A shocking tournament from the Champions culminated in this loss to Slovakia

ineffectual Vincenzo Iaquinta up front beggared belief. Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella showed why they are so highly rated in their limited time on the pitch, and surely there was a better option than Pepe, even if it was only veteran Mauro Camoranesi.

The manager could still have reasonably expected a lot more from his men though. Fabio Cannavaro will be very unhappy with his showing, and his partnership with Giorgio Chiellini looked surprisingly shaky. Similarly, Daniele De Rossi had an appalling tournament by his own very high standards. All things considered, it was an accident waiting to happen.


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