If there was ever an all-action group in the World Cup, might Group E fit the bill?
Assuming that everyone remains healthy, is there a more exciting attacking side than the Netherlands?
Can Denmark answer the call with a solid mix of veterans and youth at the forefront of the attack?
Now free of some of the defensive responsibilities of Inter, how far can Samuel Eto’o propel Cameroon?
Will Japan try to spoil the party or be forced to counter attack in order to create goals?
What’s a little talk amongst friends, then? Knowing your stuff can make you look a little bit brighter amongst your peers and this handy-dandy list of people and information will make you the go-to guru of your local World Cup group.
Here’s some things you’ll need to know before June 11th.
The Dutch are not so much a favorite to win the group as they are to lift the trophy at the end of the line. These kinds of expectations are still held, regardless of the fact that the Dutch have never actually won a World Cup. With such deep attacking talents to choose from, it’s a wonder that the Oranje have only won one major competition (Euro ‘88) and seem destined to falter in the Knockout Rounds.
That distinction of being a perpetual let down might be due to often suspect defending. While qualifying saw them concede the least amount of goals, they only played eight contests and faced anemic attacks, at best. If the defense that saw them only concede two goals shows up in force, then the Oranje stand a great chance of making some noise. If not, painful memories of the 3-1 loss to Russia in the Knockout Round of Euro 2008 will be trumpeted once again.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Giovanni van Bronckhorst
The eldest and most experienced member of Clockwork Oranje, van Bronckhorst will retire at the end the World Cup from all football. Having been one of the few who have made it through the season relatively unscathed at Feyenoord until the end of the term, the left back is expected to give his all during the final matches of his playing days while also keeping the defense from getting too caught up in the attack. It’s at his end of the field where the length of the Dutch stay will be determined and surely he will want to extend his playing days out to around seven more matches.
The Man: Nigel de Jong
With the immaculate wealth of attack the Dutch can call on, it’s again the defense that must show that they can handle the big stage, and de Jong, a snarling defensive midfielder at Manchester City, will be critical in keeping the backline protected. While Mark van Bommel will pair him at the position, van Bommel can move forward more often to utilize his mid range passing, where as de Jong will always be ready to bust up any counterattack that dares move through his side of the pitch.
Others to Watch: Maarten Stekelenburg, Wesley Sneijder, the forward(s)
Backstop Stekelenburg has been a suitable replacement for Edwin van der Sar, aiding the defense in keeping six clean sheets during qualifying. While the offense has handled things in the friendlies, Stekelenburg has not held a clean sheet in either of the two matches he has participated in, something that must be fixed against elite competition. Sneijder will be the midfield epicenter of the Oranje, controlling the tempo and allowing the attacking forces to move hither and thither, rampaging across defenses everywhere. With multiple options in the attack, there is certainly no shortage of ways for the Dutch to beat teams. Assuming Arjen Robben heals up soon, he’ll likely be moved to one side while Eljero Elia mans the opposite flank with Robin van Persie the target man. Don’t forget, though, that Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt, Klaas-Jan Huntelar and Ryan Babel are available off the bench. Safe to say, attacking is not going to be an issue for the Dutch.
Olsen-Banden (Olsen’s Gang) is back in the tournament after missing out on the 2006 edition. With a potent mix of players that were youngsters in 2002 now leading the gang, they must incorporate similarly talented youths into the mix. Known for blowing through teams on the counter attack, they will look something like the Dutch, but with much less possession to show for.
Unlike the Dutch, the defense is far more solid, particularly in the central part where the diamond of goalkeeper, central defenders and defensive midfielder will be very difficult to break down. The attack has been somewhat suspect heading into the finals, though injuries may have more to do with that than coach Morten Olsen will let on. If they can keep their solid defense going, they will be a considerably tough out in the group.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Jon Dahl Tomasson
One of the Feyenoord hitmen, Tomasson has been amongst the many struggling to be fit during the Eredivisie this term. A member of the 2002 World Cup squad, Tomasson is best positioned behind the leading striker, which means he’ll be located in an advanced role in the midfield. While age has deprived him of much of the pace that made him a terror in Europe, his consistent finishing is something that many Danes hope rubs off on the rest of the squad.
The Man: Christian Poulsen
A man not to be trifled with. Poulsen is as well known for his hard tackles and field vision as his violent outbursts. His rap sheet is lengthy, with bust-ups during Euro qualifying and tournaments as well known as his play. If he can keep things in check (something that the other squads will surely try to exploit) he is the point man for the counterattack. Protecting an already solid central defensive pairing will make moving through the center practically impossible for anyone crazy enough to move that way.
Others to Watch: Thomas Sorensen, Simon Kjaer, Nicklas Bendtner
Sorensen has been missing for some time after his elbow and he had a small disagreement in April. A healthy Sorensen is vital for the Danes’ progression hopes, even with the backline being as solid as it is. Kjaer is the up-and-coming Palermo defender who might fancy himself being in a much bigger place after the World Cup. His pairing with Daniel Agger has been nothing short of amazing and has made the system Olsen has put in place extremely effective. Of course, that is also dependent upon whether or not Bendtner, who is the front man, can produce the right kind of finishing for the Danes. Bendtner has the ability, there’s little doubt about that, which is why Tomasson becomes increasingly important just behind him.
The Indomitable Lions have lost some of the formidable luster they have had since the great 1990 run and have only won once since that year’s version of the World Cup (2002). Having failed to qualify four years ago, many of the old guard are looking to make one last great run and to do so on their home continent. Their pre-tournament friendlies have shown, however, that the defense is still the same suspect unit that has been unable to handle speedy sides.
Paul le Guen has made attacking his priority for the squad, but if he cannot get some of the aging defenders to buckle down soon, they may be forced to move in some of the up and coming players. Of course, if the Lions can simply maul opponents up front, that may matter little, but as Serbia showed, even a good attacking day can be undone if the defense doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Players to Know
The Skipper and the Man: Samuel Eto’o
While certainly there are attacking outlets available to le Guen on this team, Eto’o is still the unquestioned leader of the team. Unlike most systems he’s been involved in, Eto’o will be given a free role to move about the field to either support a target man, be the target man or play the flanks. While his defensive capabilities may be put to the test in trying to help hammer down leads, Eto’o will remain the man that everyone looks to in crunch time to deliver the Lions a valuable goal.
Others to Watch: Jean Makoun, Pierre Webo/Mohammadou Idrissou, Rigobert Song, Alexandre Song
Makoun will be the flanking foil to wherever Eto’o moves around to. Often seen flying down the wings for Lyon on the break, going forward is Makoun’s strong suit, though don’t forget that he is a capable defender down the flank. Webo and Mohammadou will be more than likely the interchangeable forwards for the Lions, though it is possible that Webo take up a flank position with Eto’o roaming free through the middle. Mohammadou presents a large target to hit up front, while Webo will be likely to make charging runs off the hold up to force defenses to react. The elder Song (Rigobert) is still a commanding presence for the Lions but must prove he can keep up with the pace of the game still, considering Trabzonspor did not resign him at the end of this term. Younger cousin Alexandre will sit in front of him, trying his best to protect the creaky backline while also using some of that Arsenal skill to make the odd forward run and throw off some of the original defensive intentions of the other squads in the group.
Those pesky Blue Samurai are the great unknown of the group. After their advancement in the 2002 World Cup as one of the co-hosts, they have really failed to make much of an impact, though this is the fourth straight tournament that the island nation has reached consecutively. What ails the side is often a lack of scoring goals when big time players come up against the scurrying side.
The midfield is the strongest part of the squad, so it figures that a 4-5-1 formation might be preferred against sides like the Dutch. If they can at least level off with the Danes and the African contingent from Cameroon, they might have a shot at leapfrogging both and sneaking their way into the Knockout Round. If they can stand up to the heat of battle, they can certainly try and assume the South Korean strategy of grinding out squads until the end where they can nick a goal and secure possible a vital win.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi
He may not even be the starter for Japan, but Kawaguchi is inspirational from wherever he may be at nonetheless. A veteran of the last three World Cups, it was almost not four as he suffered a broken leg this term should have sidelined him for longer than he has been absent. The fact he is here was reason enough for him to keep the armband. While playing, he is known for penalty saves and in particular his efforts in the 2007 Asian Cup when he denied two Aussie penalties en route to beating the ‘Roos in the quarterfinals.
The Man: Shunsuke Nakamura
A dead ball specialist, the former Celtic midfielder is the string puller of a Japanese side that often lacks quality towards the front half of the pitch. Unable to crack the starting XI at Espanyol, he moved to Yokohama F Marinos for playing time and might still be able to keep up the pace with some of the more attack determined sides in this group. Movement might by limited by age, but, much in the same mold of David Beckham, when he is on free kick duty, his left foot has many defenders on full alert and if he can take some of the pressure off of his forwards, he might just be able to free them up for a more balanced attack.
Others to Watch: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki/Takayuki Morimoto, Yuki Abe
Honda, while not showing the same scoring touch he displayed a VVV-Venlo, is adept at playing on the left of any formation and can fall back into defensive duties if the need arises. He also has a comparable free kick track record to match Nakamura and might fancy his right foot in certain situations. Okazaki and Morimoto are less experienced that the probable starting forwards, but also have the attention of many who have seen them in Europe. Okazaki has an alarming goal rate for Japan compared to the rest of the team (roughly three goals per five appearances) while Morimoto has caught the eye of many in Italy with his physical capabilities. Abe is a versatile defensive player who can bounce between the center of defense to the flanks and even put in a shift as a defensive midfielder, a spot he might find himself being utilized for in the tournament. His versatility may be key if the defense falters against the high octane attacks Japan will be pitted against.
Netherlands v. Denmark
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
7:30 AM EST
Japan v. Cameroon
Free State Stadium (Vodacom Park), Bloemfontein
10:00 AM EST
Netherlands v. Japan
Durban Stadium (Moses Mabhida Stadium), Durban
7:30 AM EST
Cameroon v. Denmark
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2:30 PM EST
Denmark v. Japan
Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Phokeng
2:30 PM EST
Cameroon v. Netherlands
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
2:30 PM EST
Tags: 2010 World Cup, Soccer