Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Group E Preview

Group E will will shake down one of two ways: 1)The Netherlands will crush the group, and the battle will be for second place. 2) The Netherlands choke...not for the first time and the group is wide open to the team that plays the best football. This group contains four solid teams in the above mentioned Dutch, Cameroon, Denmark and Japan. All four teams are World Cup veterans who will not be intimidated by the scale tournament. In fact this group could provide the most entertaining matches as each team has the ability to go forward and score.

The Indomitable Lions are entering their sixth world cup, which makes them the African leader in this regard. Cameroon has always been known to have an imposing attack and strong midfield. After a slow start in African qualifying and the hiring of former Paris St-Germain boss Paul Le Guen, the Lions have looked very strong winning their last 5 matches in a row shutting out their opponents 3 times in the process.

There is very little secret in the attack for Cameroon, it runs through world class striker and captain Samuel Eto'o. The Inter Milan striker has 43 international goals and is a constant threat in and around the 18 yard box. However he has recently been critized by former Lions great Roger Millia in which he claims that Eto'o plays harder for his club team then her does for Cameroon. This has prompted Eto'o to respond by threatening to leave the national set up and not go to the world cup. Although I believe Eto'o will back down from his threat, this is a bit concerning for the team as they get ready for the tournament.

Aside from Eto'o the team boasts a steely midfield anchored by Alexandre Song and Jean Makoun. Though both do not provide the most thrilling or "sexy" play, they have a very high work rate that will cause most teams problems in their build up play. The issue for the squad maybe the back four, the ageless Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap have over four times the international playing experience then the other two backs that will be lining up with them, and with the types of teams in this group they could get exposed if they cannot gel.

Its hard to say is Cameroon will get though to the next round, if Eto'o holds true to the possibility of quiting the national team then no. However if he's in the right frame of mind and the back four gels quickly then this could be a strong round of 16 team.

On paper this is clearly the best team in the group, the 1988 European champions come into this tournament white hot. The Clockwork Orange posted a 100% record in European qualifying going 8 for 8, and have won 13 straight overall, currently they are ranked 4th in the world by FIFA. Although the team is long removed from playing the famous "Total Football" (Click on total football if you want a explanation) style of the Johan Cruyff era, this team still packs an incredible offence punch which could take them far in this tournament. However in its history the Dutch, aside from the back to back finals appearances in 74' and 78', have underachieved at this level. The long standing word is that the only team that ever beats the Dutch, are the Dutch.

The keys to this team are not one or two players per say, though you should look out for strikers Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. It is in the way the midfield and the strikers can interchange positions and create confusion among the defenders. This is a hybrid of total football, true total football allowed defenders to come forward as freely as midfielders. Everyone on this squad has the skill to score goals and the attack comes form every flank. This normally overwhelms a defence and help the Oranje score a ton of goals. However the downfall to this style is that sometimes they can forget to defend properly. This is something they cannot forget to do in this group.

The 2010 Oranje are a very experienced side which should qualify for the round of 16, but they must guard against taking their opponents lightly or they could find themselves in a dogfight to make the top two spots.

For the 4th time the Japanese will be playing at the highest international level. Aside from 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament and made the round of 16, they have struggled to make it out of the first round. 2002 can be put down to the home crowd advantage, but they have struggled outside of Asia. However in 2010 things could change, the domestic league in Japan is improving and is starting to provide quality players to the national team. Plus the stars that play outside of Japan are getting quality minutes which is also benefiting the JFA. The Samurai Blue qualified easily for the tournament, however had a hard time with Asian leaders South Korea in head to head match ups.

The key for Japan will be in the organization in the squad formation. Unlike the Dutch, Japan stays in formation and very rarely deviates from this. Normally I would have a problem with this, as it shows a inability to adapt to what the opposition throws at you; Plus Japan isn't as good as Brazil. However in this group it might be important to stay tight in the midfield as every team in the group can score and in regards to a match up in fire power Japan would rank last in the group. The key man for Japan is midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. He will have to control the midfield and find ways to either score or set up lone striker Keiji Tamada. If he cannot do this Japan will be in trouble in this group.

Japan's back four will see alot of work in the first round, and it is very hard to see a birth in the round of 16 for them.

Martin Olsen's gang enter the world cup on a similar role as the Netherlands, they topped their European qualifying group which included Portugal and Sweden. There is very little secret to the Danish style of play, for this world cup they will play a straight forward style of European football, strong build up play through the midfield crossing balls into the box for the strikers. The Danes also have a solid defence that could hold the key to them making the second round.

Leading this defence are Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger as the two center backs. As previously stated, this group can score. Therefore having a strong defensive duo like Kjaer and Agger is extremely important to have leading the way. Both are "no nonsense" type of defenders, they stop attackers in their tracks with excellent positioning and awareness. They also can provide a little offence as well, both players are excellent in the air on set pieces and Agger has a cannon for a left footed shot.

The other ex-factor for the Danes is their manager Martin Olsen. He is loved in Denmark and the players are loyal to him and play extremely hard for him. This cannot be over emphasised, as having a good manager who gains the respect and trust of his players during a world cup tend to go along way. If you don't believe this check the history of the last three world cup winners and see how well respected their managers were. He is also very smart tactically. Olsen knows what his players can and cannot do and puts them in the best positions to succeed for the team.

I see this being a tighter group them most experts have it down as, I have the Netherlands going through based on solid offensive play. As my second place team, I'm picking Denmark to go through. It'll be close between The Danes and Cameroon, but I believe the Danes will just have a bit more than the Lions to get through.

Next up, group F!


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