Games involving the Dutch in South Africa should be quite easy on the eyes, unless flawless defending is your thing. But if you’re into goals, goals, goals, scored through Tricky Flicks, Mazy Dribbles and Fruitless Backheels then you’re in for a treat. In short, this 2010 edition of the Holland football team has ample firepower going forward (with artistry to boot) but shakiness at the back and in goal could negate whatever goals they claim up front.
(Robben cleansing Europe of scum)
Arjen Robben is one of the best players in Europe at the moment, (a few weeks ago maybe THE best), but he is struggling with a hamstring injury that he picked up in a pre-WC friendly while attempting some sort of combination Tricky Flick/Fruitless Backheel. With a fully-fit Robben in their side Holland could be said to be one of the favorites to lift the cup, but without him they seem to be regarded as a dark horse favorite; or maybe just slightly dark: a bright horse laying in the dappled shade of a plane tree.
Robben-less, the Dutch attack is still one of the strongest at this World Cup: Champions-League-winning Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, and the mighty Robin van Persie. Van Persie will be particularly interesting to watch: missing most of the last season through injury, Van Persie may be fresher and stronger than most of the other players who have just finished tiring 38-game seasons in Europe. In the last couple of Arsenal games, Van Persie looked magnificent, almost single-handedly lifting a disillusioned Arsenal squad. If his form then was not a fluke, he could put in a legendary performance in South Africa.
An oldie but a goodie:
With the national retirement of Edwin van der Sar, Maarten Stekelenburg has stepped into goal for the Dutch, striking fear into the hearts of an entire nation. Stekelenburg has regained his spot as first-choice keeper for Ajax, but there remain many questions about his reliability. Playing behind a back four of questionable pedigree, Stekelenburg will have to assert his authority in goal to give the Dutch the solidity necessary to progress towards the Final.
Looking strong in qualification (topping their group, embarrassing Portugal), the Danes will look to captain (and Mark Hamill look-alike) Jon Dahl Tomasson to continue the squad’s strong form in South Africa.
Remember Euro 1992?! That has been the Danish rallying cry for the past eighteen years, but World Cup appearances since have failed to repeat such a feat: reaching the quarter-finals in ’98 was the farthest they got. The Danish team this year could be the strongest since 1992.
While lacking any real superstar talent, Denmark are a very talented and (more importantly) cohesive unit, whose organization and team-spirit was plain to see in their successful qualifying rounds. Striker Soren Larsen spoke of the team ethic present in the squad:
“Our main strength is our team spirit. We keep things tight and try to get forward with plenty of passing down the flanks. It’s very similar to the Netherlands, really, but not quite at the same level. We fight for one another, so if someone makes a mistake, we run the extra 100 metres to help them out.”
Tomas Sorensen in goal together with center-backs Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer keep it tight at the back, and Christian Poulsen will pull the strings from a holding midfield position. Striker Nicklas Bendtner has had a funny time at Arsenal. He became a bit of a laughing stock by appearing delusionally cocky and self-assured in interviews, and incited much grumbling and harrumphing from stuffy British announcers for wearing PINK BOOTS. Some seemed shocked and appaled at the state of the world wear a man can step onto a football pitch wearing pink (Forza Palermo!), although some said that it was a guarantee of the reality of his manliness. Either way, Bendtner’s pink slippers eventually found the ball and made the ball eventually go into the net. He compensated for his inaccurate finishing with good movement, deft ball-control, and muscle, also popping up in defense to head away from set pieces. Bendtner’s form with Denmark has been fairly stellar. Look to Bendigol/Barndoor to supply most of the Danish goals this summer.
After a disappointing campaign in Germany 4 years ago, Japan arrive in South Africa with a new coach, some new talent, and the desire to repeat their 2002 progression into the second round. Fortune was not smiling particularly brightly on the Japanese, and they will certainly have a hard time getting through Group E. I really don’t see them pulling it of, and if they do it will be a huge accomplishment for Asian football.
CSKAMoscow’s young midfielder Keisuke Honda could be the hottest new Japanese talent, and after a stellar showing in the Eredivisie and a promising start in Russia, Honda will surely hope to make an impression on the international stage. Also keep an eye out for young Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto, “the Japanese Ronaldo,” whose pace and skill have attracted the wandering eyes of a few big European clubs.
After big-upping Cameroon in this year’s CAN, I sadly watched the Indomitable Lions look decidedly domitable as they barely scraped through their group before getting soundly beaten by Egypt.
Sadly, I don’t really have a reason to think Cameroon will fare much better in South Africa. Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s two best players in my opinion, epitomize the model of hugely talented club-player who somehow becomes a less-than-spectacular national-player. With Song, who still plays with the same effectiveness and elegance for both Cameroon and Arsenal, it is a question of formation. Paul Le Guen seems unable to replicate the role that Arsene Wenger designed for Song at Arsenal: that of a holding midfielder, able to get forward enough to provide killer passes while always able to defend against a counter-attack if one of the center-backs has strayed forward. With Eto’o it’s more a case of not getting the same service from his national teammates that he gets from their club counterparts.
Recently at Inter, Mourinho has turned Eto’o from a central striker into a winger-cum-left-back. It will be interesting to see whether coach Paul Le Guen takes a cue from this change, allowing Cameroon’s other strikers to take a more leading role.
One young player who may make a big impression is Eto’o’s possible strike-partner, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who may replace Pierre Webo and Mohammadou Idrisou up front. Le Guen has said that he thinks Eto’o and Choupo-Moting understand each other and communicate well on the pitch. Choupo-Moting certainly looks like a good finisher in this video (disregard the fact that he’s playing for HSV/scum):
A prolific strike partnership between the two would be a welcome change from the lack of finishing prowess seen in Angola earlier this year.
The defense remains doubtful, with Rigobert Song looking to become the first player sent of in three World Cups, and N’Koulo and the others still looking a bit shaky. If Le Guen chances upon a killer new formation for the Indomitables, they can surely challenge for second spot in Group E, but they won’t progress without a vast improvement to the form they’ve shown so far in 2010.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Netherlands, Denmark
A good Thursday to all readers who are turning to us for the “latest” on CAN ’10 news & views…it’s the last day of the group qualifiers with the conclusion of Group D. ANY of the four participants can qualify through today…and currently its TUNISIA 1-0 CAMEROON and still 0-0 between GABON (current group leaders w. 4 points) and ZAMBIA.
I’m gonna attempt to awaken my critical apparatus/put my feet up and watch the game(s?)—for TRULY up-to-the-minute journalism complete with bonus strata of cultural effluvia you HAVE to turn to casual-griot/African football analyst Paul Doyle’s coverage:
13 mins: Eto’o, marooned out on the left as part of Le Guen’s odd masterplan, collects the ball and attempts to drive inside, but is repulsed by a Tunisian defender. “Mention of the Zambia team reminds me of the days back in ’95 when I used to play Actua Soccer on the family PC,” recalls Elliot Carr-Barnsley, all misty-eyed. “Every time Kalusha Bwalya got the ball, anywhere on the pitch, the commentator (Barry Davies?) would shout “BWALIYYYAAAA” as if he’d scored. Happy days. I once spent a day playing the whole of Euro 96 on that with a friend. Good times. I remember the sun being out outside but we had no need for it.”
The game is rapidly turning ugly/heated, with the Tunisians especially seeming intent on kicking Cameroon, shin-trodding, etc.—they have 3 yellow cards already, including a barge outside the box by their keeper that likely should have been red?
…oooh and it’s ZAMBIA 1-0 GABON now through a Rainford Kalaba goal!!! A win would give the Chipolopolo 4 points, level with Gabon (with whom they would then win a head-to-head tiebreak!).
‘Tis CAMEROON 1-1 TUNISIA an hour in…a draw is good enough to send Cameroon through. They still look pretty wobbly at the back though, so unsure how likely it is to end 1-1!
WOBBBBBBBLLLLLE: it’s 2-1 to TUNISIA as substitute Cameroon CB Chedjou heads the ball back over his keeper for an own goal. oh fuck and as i type it’s 2-2?! Another one of coach Paul Le Guen’s 6 substitutes is the side redeems Chedjou’s own goal: rightsided mifielder Nguemo is set up at edge of the box and blasts in. Village Elder Rigobert Song is now coming off the bench here to offer defensive “stability” to the Indomitable Lions…
…oh and meanwhile during that goal spurt, James Chamanga felt the goalvibes and put in a 2nd for the Copper Bullets of Zambia! as it stands AT THIS MOMENT, Cameroon win the group and will play Nigeria in the QF and Zambia would play Group C winners Egypt.
AND THAT IS HOW IT’LL END! The quarterfinals are all set, and we’ll have our first gameless lull of the tournament—phew! No massive surprise qualifications emerged out of the groups, save for Zambia who have to be seen as the minnows against a fluent-looking Egypt squad looking to win a record 3rd consecutive cup. Nigeria-Cameroon on Monday as well! Although both sides have showed stuttering form, Cameroon offered up more convincing evidence of offensive creativity, although their defensive frailty has been demonstrated in equally “creativity” spells.
SO LONG! Until we meet again, hopefully with a live quarterfinal extravaganza this Sunday…até la!
“Tu play le damba tous les jours?” (Know yr Camfranglais!!!)
The Indomitable Lions come to Angola with their sights on the title, which would be their 5th. Not many have picked Cameroon as likely champions this year, simply because most punters seem so sure of a Côte d’Ivoire victory. It seems as though everyone feels it is simply inevitable that the Elephants will win, because Drogba is 31, because it may be the last hurrah of the current Ivorian Golden Age. From my point of view this prediction seems way over-confident, and if the Ivorians have consistently bottled big games in the past decade, why would they stop now? All these expectations could set the stage for a Cameroonian siege, and they are, in fact, my personal pick to go all the way in Angola.
My faith starts at the back, with Carlos Kameni, arguably the only world-class keeper at the CAN this year [why does Africa have such a difficult time producing great keepers?]. Apparently Kameni will be looking to move from Espanyol at the end of the season, and a solid showing at this CAN could be the perfect way to show the world his immense ability.
Moving forward from Kameni, we come to Alexandre Song, who has been in absolutely exquisite form all season at Arsenal, where he has cemented his position in the starting eleven, playing a Yaya-esque role in front of the central defenders. In Arsenal’s current formation Song utilizes his strength and technical ability to win the ball in midfield, protect it, slowing the game down in a Riquelmean fashion, then feeding the forward trio with an incisive pass. He’s got pace and is smart with a tackle as well, always popping up at the right place to cover in defense when either Vermaelen or Gallas storm forward. If coach Paul Le Guen (of PSG fame, who we can assume has payed some attention to Arsène Wenger’s formations) is able to provide Song with the space to play a similar role to the one he plays at Arsenal, he could be the standout performer of this year’s cup. This video showcases the quality of Song’s subtle midfield work in a few of this season’s early games for Arsenal (turn off the sound) (and also don’t let the subtitle bum you out too much):
My one worry is that, with two other talented defensive midfielders in Stephane Mbia and Landry N’Guemo, Song’s role won’t be as central. However, having both Song and either Mbia or N’Guemo to cover for the Cameroonian defense will be a great boost. Rigobert Song is about 60 years old, and he will apparently be paired with the relatively inexperienced (but extremely talented) Nicholas N’Koulou. If Rigobert and N’Koulou can stand strong, Alex Song will be free to dominate the midfield, winning and distributing ball after ball to Achille Emana and Jean Makoun, in turn feeding Samuel Eto’o, who we all know can finish. If the Lions’ performance reflects this strong spine at all, I can’t see any other team beating them out. The only danger would be a striker like Drogba running over old Rigo and N’Koulou, but with Alex Song and Mbia to bolster the defence, not to mention Kameni, it may not prove to be a problem.
Song was the big surprise of the last CAN, and I can see him shining brightly again in Angola. Eto’o playing well would be no surprise, but this year he’s set himself a particularly high bar, voicing his desire to surpass Mulamba Ndaye’s record of 9 goals in a single CAN tournament. The prospect of Eto’o and Drogba—without a doubt the two greatest African strikers of this generation—facing-off in a CAN final is mouth-watering.
This Cameroonian team is really bursting with talent, young upstarts and experienced vets, and if Le Guen is able to get the squad flowing smoothly, Cameroon will be on their way to victory not only in Angola, but in South Africa as well.
The early surprise package in qualifying rounds was Gabon, who won 3 out of 6 matches, finishing second behind Cameroon. The Azingo Nationale are almost completely without top-flight international success, having never qualified for a World Cup, and having only won one match in past Cups of Nations appearances. Regardless, Gabon have many exciting young players who will be looking repeat their impressive qualifying-round performances in Angola.
Reticent Azingo captain Daniel Cousin’s form at Hull City has been brilliant at times, but inconsistent—but then even a world-class striker would struggle to maintain form at Hull City. Look to Cousin to attempt to convince on an international stage, in the hopes of escaping relegation next season by moving to a different club.
23 year-old Ankaragücü striker Roguy Meye netted twice in qualifying rounds, and may be set to partner Cousin up front. Young striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, currently on loan from Milan at Lille, apparently played brilliantly against Morocco. Bruno Ecuélé Manga is Gabon’s best defender, and his superb form at Ligue 2 side SCO Angers has attracted attention from Premier Ligue sides.
Considering Gabon’s recent impressive form, as well as Tunisia’s lack thereof, the Azingo Nationale have a more than fair chance of progressing to the quarterfinals for only the second time in their country’s history. It’s worth keeping in mind that Gabon, along with Equitorial Guinea, will host the next Cup of Nations. A good showing this year would surely boost the team’s expectations for 2012.
“Well ,chipolopolo boyz !Leeds Utd is a classic proof for you after what they did to Man Utd yesterday .They humbled a big team 0-1 in an away fixture and were unlucky not to have scored more .So even a pack of hungry and determined wild dogs can bring down the mighty elephant .Same applies to you lads ,if you want to redeem ur past glory , now is the time but of course it will have to come at the expense of tunisia or cameroon .4get Gabon !”—chipolopolo surgeon
The Zambian Copper Bullets have never won the CAN, coming closest in 1994, directly following the tragic 1993 plane crash which killed the entire Zambian first team. A hastily assembled squad impressively made it to the final in 1994, but lost out to Nigeria. The Chipolopolo Boys will be looking to establish themselves as the intimidating footballing force they once were.
However, despite hopeful sentiment such as that quoted above, few Zambians really believe their team has what it takes to reach the final. Many consider the current lineup lacking in creative spark and youthful vigor.
Look for defenders Joseph Musonda and Chintu Kampamba to keep things tight at the back, hoping captain, and Bielefeld striker, Chris Katongo can lead an effective offensive display.
Katongo will most likely be partnered up front by exciting young prospect Jacob Mulenga, who currently plays in Holland for FC Utrecht. Mulenga is strong, fast, and tall, and will most likely play through the center, hoping to capitalize from the artful buildup of the Katongo brothers: Chris and midfielder Felix.
The focus is on Gabon to be the outsider success in Group D, but a loss to Zambia could see the Chipolopolo usurp that position. There could be added drama in the Zambia-Gabon match due to a falling-out between the two federations following the ’93 plane crash (involving possible negligence on the part of Gabonese air-traffic controllers, who allowed the faulty Zambian plane to take off from Libreville airport).
The Eagles of Carthage had a hugely disappointing qualifying campaign, and will be looking to Angola for some consolation. Due to the aforementioned Nigerianist divine intervention, Tunisia missed out on World Cup qualification for the first time in 12 years by one point, due to a surprise defeat at home to Mozambique. The Carthage Eagles won the CAN when they hosted it in 2004, and their bitter World Cup disappointment will be driving them to repeat that success in Angola.
Tunisia’s young playmaker Oussama Darragi will be sure to hog the spotlight if the Eagles are successful. For an example of what the 22-year-old is capable of, watch this video of Darragi’s spectacular last-minute equalizer against Nigeria in the qualifiers (skip forward to 2:30, and don’t miss the subsequently unimpressed Nigerian fans pelting the celebrating Tunisians with water-bottles):
Young Hannover central defender Karim Haggui should shore up the Tunisian defese, while Amine Chermiti, erstwhile leading goal scorer in the African Champions League, will be looking to link up with Darragi and supply his country with several consolatory goals.
Tunisia will be hungover from their World Cup failure, but, like Egypt, without the distraction of South Africa in the summer they’ll be ready to give everything in Angola.