Saturday, June 12, 2010

Group E preview


Strengths: Samuel Eto'o is one of the best strikers in the world. He has a strike rate of a little worse than one every two games and has consistently scored a lot of goals for big European sides such as Barcelona (where he was particularly prolific) and Inter Milan. His likely strike partner Webo is also talented, and has scored important goals for his country. Alex Song is a quality midfielder for Arsenal and takes on a more creative role for Cameroon than he does for his club side. Providing Cameroon are organised and keep good shape they do have good defenders including Spurs duo Assou-Ekotto and Bassong.

Weaknesses: One criticism often (with a degree of validity) levelled at Cameroon is that they are a one man team. It is certainly true that Eto'o's performances are crucial to the side - when he is in great form they are much more likely to win. There is also an element of petulance about Eto'o that may not be good for morale. Cameroon legend Roger Milla criticised Eto'o for not playing as well for Cameroon as he does in domestic football - Eto'o responded with a tantrum, threatening to walk out on the team. If he does play worse for Cameroon it is probably because he doesn't get the quality of service that he did say at Barcelona. Cameroon have often appeared disorganised in defence and the quality of some of their personnel is questionable. Their form in the friendlies has also been patchy.

Formation: It is very hard to pin down what their formation is likely to be at the World Cup. It may even change depending on the opposition. My pick is a 4-4-2 with the midfield 4 in a diamond but I could be completely wrong. In the recent friendly against Serbia they played 3-4-3 which resulted in goals and shaky defence (hence a 4-3 loss).

Manager: Former French international Paul Le Guen. As a manager he has been hit and miss. He led Lyon to 3 consecutive Ligue 1 titles and the Champions League quarterfinals in 2004. He has struggled for consistency with Rangers and PSV however. He took over in July 2009 when Cameroon were in grave danger of missing out on World Cup 2010 and turned things around to achieve qualification.

Qualification: In their final qualifying group Cameroon qualified comfortably in the end - 4 points ahead of Gabon. It was a lot tighter than the final points table suggested - a shocking start necessitated a change of manager in order to bring about a change of fortunes.

World Cup pedigree: Cameroon first qualified for the World Cup in 1982. They battled well to 3 draws (against Italy, Peru and Poland) which was not enough to qualify for the next round. The only other tournaments they have played in are the four consecutive world cup finals of 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. The only time they have progressed beyond the first round was in 1990 when they shocked and charmed the world reaching the quarter-finals defeating Argentina, Romania and Columbia on the way. (Check out an earlier blog post for more on their efforts in 1990 and the wonders of the legend Roger Mila).

Chance of progression from Group E: 50%, might just miss out.


Strengths: There has been precious little about Denmark's chances at the 2010 World Cup. I feel they have been somewhat glossed over when this is possibly Denmark's best squad ever to come to a World Cup and is the very same Denmark who finished top of their qualifying group that included both Portugal and Sweden. I'm not even saying I'm very confident of them making the next round but I do think commentators haven't done them justice. Denmark has a strong defence which builds from the back. Agger and Kjaer are a strong centre-back pairing and both are composed on the ball. Christian Eriksen is 18 and the youngest player at the 2010 World Cup. He is rated as the next Laudrup (after the Danish legends Brian and Michael Laudrup) and this link explains why. He has only played 3 times for Denmark, I hope he gets an opportunity to show why Martin Jol rates him so highly. Tomasson is a quality and prolific goalscorer although it appears that Bendtner if fit may lead the line ahead of rather than alongside him. Tomasson and Rommedahl are both in the twilight of their careers but still exude quality.

Weaknesses: Denmark are struggling with a few injuries. Players have missed recently friendlies and are all battling to be fit for their opener with the Netherlands. These players include Kahlenberg, Kjaer, Tomasson, Sorenson and Bendtner. Denmark lacks strength in depth in a number of positions. They also have a number of solid personnel who will work hard and are technically good players but few of these players can be considered top class individuals who can change a game in an instant. In other words most of their players are what I would classify as second tier players. Also their form in the friendlies hasn't been particularly inspiring.

Formation: I believe Denmark have been contemplating whether to go with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-2-1. Ultimately I think they may go with the former.

Manager: Morten Olsen has been manager of the Danish side for ten years. He also played approximately 19 years for the national team. He has a lot of experience and should have a steady and calming influence on his players as he will no doubt have seen it all!

Qualification: Denmark finished first in their qualifying group - ahead of both Portugal and Sweden. They beat Sweden home and away and ended up winning their group comfortably.

World Cup pedigree: Denmark have only competed in 3 World Cups: 1986, 1998 and 2002. On each occasion they got past through the group stage and in 1998 even made the quarterfinals.

Chance of progression from Group E: 60%, will probably finish second.


Strengths: Japan's greatest quality is in their ability to keep possession. They move it around, playing neat and tidy possession football almost as well as the top teams. They also boast a strong central defensive partnership of Marcus Tulio and Yuji Nakazawa. Honda is Japan's most exciting player. A creative midfielder playing at CSKA Moscow Japan will look to him to create plenty of goalscoring opportunities. Nakamura is another threat from midfield - with 24 goals in 95 games he is clearly dangerous in the attacking third. Both Honda and Nakamura are renowned for their free kick prowess. Japan have a lot of experience in their national squad - seven of them have over 70 international caps, 2 over 100.

Weaknesses: Japan's greatest weakness is in attack as they clearly lack players likely to penetrate the best defences. Their biggest hope in this area is Shinji Okazaki who scored 15 in his first 20 appearances although he only managed 1 in his next 8. Okazaki is supposed to have excellent composure and creativity. All the rest of Japan's strikers have a poor strike-rate and will have to take their game to another level if they are to profit in South Africa. They have lost their last three friendlies and have only scored 1 goal in their last 5 games. Clearly they find it difficult to translate possession into goals. Also 19 out of their 23 man squad play domestically in Japan which is a league not well known for it's strength. Time will tell how good the J League is.

Formation: Likely to be 4-1-4-1. If so expect Okazaki to get too isolated upfront. Nakamura may also have to settle for a place on the bench.

Manager: Takeshi Okada is in his second spell as Japan's manager and also played in the national side for 5 years in the 80's.

Qualification: Japan finished in the second automatic qualifying spot in their qualification (behind Australia) and only lost one game in their group (winning 4 and drawing 3).

World Cup pedigree: Japan made their first World Cup in 1998 and have qualified ever since. In 1998 and 2006 they didn't make it through the group stage - in 1998 they lost all 3 games by one goal and in 2006 they picked up a solitary point thanks to a 0-0 draw with Croatia. In 2002 (when they co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea) they made it through to the second round where they lost to eventual 3rd place finishers Turkey.

Chance of progression from Group E: 40%, won't disgrace themselves but probably won't progress.


Strengths: The Netherlands have a team packed with attacking flair and talent. Names like Robben, van Persie, van der Waart and Sneijder are all capable of putting any international side to the sword. The Dutch play beautiful, thrilling, fluid, exciting and majestic attacking football of the highest order. At least, that is what they are capable of. The Netherlands are certainly capable of winning the World Cup but we do seem to say that every time.

Weaknesses: The Netherlands have a slightly suspect defence. The individuals that make up their back 4 are probably the weakest individuals in the team. The key for them is making sure they are cohesive. This at least can paper over the cracks. Robben is under an injury cloud after suffering an injury in a recent friendly, he is expected to be fit at least by the second game. Others like van Persie have had an injury plagued season they will be hoping to put behind them.

Formation: The Netherlands are likely to play a 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 formation. There is speculation that they will attempt to play their fab 4 (Robben, van Persie, Sneijder and van der Waart) together which is a sight rarely seen. However Kuyt may have something to say about that. A more limited footballer he provides more defensive qualities and can still pop up with goals. The Dutch are likely to play 2 holding midfielders in van Bommel and de Jong which will allow the fullbacks a bit more freedom to link up with the attack.

Manager: Bert van Marjwik has been involved in management in some capacity for around 18 years. He won the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002 and this is his first foray into international management (which started in 2008). It's a reasonable CV but to be honest it's not great. Let's hope for the Dutch sake he comes up trumps!

Qualification: The Netherlands finished first in their fairly straight forward qualifying group, winning every game.

World Cup pedigree: The Netherlands are playing in their ninth world cup. In 1934 and 1938 they didn't make it past the group stage. They were then in the footballing wilderness for 36 years, not qualifying for another tournament until 1974. Then in both 1974 and 1978 the Netherlands reached the final only to lose to Germany and Argentina respectively. It remains a travesty that they did not win either as they played their brand of spectacular 'total football'. I would quite happily have them right these wrongs in 2010 and win the whole thing. In their other four world cups the Netherlands reached the second round twice, the quarters once and 4th place in 1998.

Chance of progression from Group E: 90%, probably in first place.

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