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.