Group E, for lack of a better term, is wide open. All four teams have a shot at making Round of 16. First, my previews, then my match-by-match predictions and predicted final table.
Leading the way is the Dutch, who are the overwhelming favorites to both win the group and should definitely advance to the knockout stages. As always, the Dutch are trying to recapture the glory of Cryuff, and the glory of the lost 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals. The Dutch, known for playing sexy football rather than practical football, will look to Manager Bert van Marjwick to finally get the Dutch their first World Cup.
The Dutch are a frontloaded team, with experience and talent in the form of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Dirk Kuyt. The weaknesses in the Dutch team come in the back, and expect the Dutch to try to outgun their opponents in high scoring affairs. Dangerous and ultimately suicidal against sides such as Portugal, Germany and England, this strategy should be sufficient against the likes of Japan, Denmark and Cameroon. Expect the Dutch to comfortably advance, but I do not expect the Dutch to advance any farther than the quarterfinals. The defensive ability simply isn’t there.
A brief side note here, for those of you interested in Dutch Soccer, I highly recommend the book The Brilliant Orange by David Winner. Really a fantastic read, especially if you have any interest in the development and history of Dutch football.
Japan, qualifying out of Asia by finishing second in Group A, is very much the dark horse of the group. Using players primarily from the J-League, they will rely on domestic talent to drive their Group E campaign.
Japan has qualified for the last four World Cups. Their only appearance in the knockout stages of the World Cup came in 2002, when they qualified to the Round of 16 as hosts of the tournament. This year, Japan will look to equal this mark, but they have a difficult group, and will be hard pressed to find any points in this group. Perhaps, should Japan find form, they will be able to find just enough points to make it into the knockout stages, but only just.
Every time Denmark has qualified for the World Cup (three times, this is their fourth trip), they have managed to navigate their group and advance to the knockout rounds. Here, their goal will be to do the same, but they will have to do well against a strong Cameroonian side and a solid Japanese side. Their biggest triumph is their Euro 1992 crown, and Denmark will dream (and do no more than dream) that they will be able to add a World Cup to their trophy case.
Denmark were able to qualify for the World Cup by finishing in first place in a difficult qualifying group, which included the likes of Sweden, Portugal and Hungary. A solid qualification campaign, in which Denmark’s solid defense conceded only five goals in ten matches, sets them up nicely to advance out of their group.
Led by an array of Premiership players including Bendtner of Arsenal, Agger of Liverpool, and in goal, Sorensen of Stoke City, Denmark should be solid enough to provide a strong challenge to reach the second round, however, they lack the quality to make a deep run into the tourney.
The indomitable Lions, also known as the Cameroonian National Team, are the great African hope for a deep run into the tournament. Cameroon, the first African team to make a quarterfinal in the World Cup (which they did in 1990), will look to replicate or better that accomplishment this year. Expect the South African crowd to fully back this team, as Africans look for an African team to make a deep run into this Cup.
The success of Cameroon will lie in the ability and production of the great striker (and Captain) Samuel Eto’o. With 96 caps going into the tournament, he will have to be in top form in order to play a fourth match and earn his 100th Cap in the Round of 16. Disgruntled and angry, expect Eto’o to play very well and very hard this tourney. Cameroon has depth, talent, and is the most balanced African team. The key match will be the one against Denmark, and should Cameroon prevail and win, they should be able to advance to the round of 16.
Cameroon is my pick for the dark horse in this tourney. Balanced, talented, and playing in front of a virtual home crowd (especially in the knockout rounds), expect Cameroon to be a tough opponent to any, yes, any team they play against.
Holland 2-1 Denmark
Expect Holland to do just enough to beat Denmark. This is a key match for Holland, should they not get a result, they may go crashing out of the group. All things said, I think this match should be more comfortable for Holland than this score line suggests.
Japan 0-1 Cameroon
An interesting matchup, but Cameroon should have just enough strength to triumph over Japan. A win here would be huge for Cameroon’s confidence, and if they win this match, they should be favorites to win the group.
Netherlands 3-0 Japan
Japan is simply not strong enough offensively to score on the Dutch, and the Dutch should easily claim three points in this fixture.
Cameroon 2-1 Denmark
This will be the key match of the group, and the winner of this match will win the group, assuming that Japan is trounced in most of their matches. Cameroon is a better all around team then Denmark, and I expect Cameroon to just squeak by as winners here. The winner of this match, should one team claim all three points is a heavy favorite to advance to the knockout rounds. At this point, given my predos, Cameroon and Holland have both advanced, while Denmark and Japan are eliminated.
Cameroon 0-1 Netherlands
A match between champions, but nonetheless important for seeding purposes. Expect the Dutch to do just enough to win this one, as the second strings of both teams have at each other. Enjoy.
Denmark 1-0 Japan
Again, Japan, already eliminated at this point, will end their tourney with a goose egg in points. Denmark should be able to pick up their first points of the tourney in what will be a useless match. Yay losers!
Predicted Final Standings:
Cameroon 6 pts
Denmark 3 pts
All put together, this group is wide open. Expect Holland to advance, and my predictions are just that, predictions, anything can happen, and any of the other three teams can sneak into that second spot. Enjoy Group E, an excellent and wide open contest for two precious spots in the knockout round of the World Cup.
Sean McElroy is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com.