Cameroon has more experience in the World Cup than any other African nation and they bring a mix of youth and experience that should hold them in good stead. They have also avoided the injury bug that has hurt Ghana, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
They have a seasoned group of defenders which is becoming increasingly important in what is turning out to be a fairly low scoring cup thus far. A surprise has been that the coach Paul Le Guen has announced that the presumptive starting keeper, Carlos Kemeni will be benched for the opening game against Japan.
On defense Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastian Bassong are both coming off solid seasons with Tottenham Hotspurs. Nicolas Nkoulou, one of the bright young stars in the tournament as well as the experienced Stephane Mbia who anchors the Marseilles central defense complete a solid quartet.
In midfield, Alexandre Song of Arsenal who is strong and a technically gifted defense oriented player as well as Jean Makoun, a veteran with Lyon are their key players.
Cameroon play a 4-3-1-2 formation with much of the strength in the back. The defensive midfielders have no hesitation to move into the attack to support the key for Cameroon.
Three time African Footballer of the Year, Samuel Eto’o who has had a stellar career at Barcelona and now Inter Milan is their inspirational leader. Although still only 29 he has 42 goals in 92 appearances for the Indomitable Lions. Partnering him up front will be Pierre Webo another veteran with Achille Emana supporting them from the midfield position.
The team has balance and experience and could be the first African team to finally get further than the quarter finals.
Late update: It is being reported that Alex Song will be on the bench for their opening game against Japan. No reason was given other than it's a coaches decision.
Denmark brings a team with lots of experience. They are a solid team that plays a typical Northern European style which is both disciplined and direct.
In goal they have the experienced Thomas Sorensen of Stoke although a late season injury could be a problem. In defense they have the solid Daniel Agger of Liverpool and the rising star, Simon Kjaer, also fighting an injury. Kjaer was excellent in containing both Christian Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in qualifying games allowing Denmark to finish ahead of Portugal as well as eliminate Sweden from the finals. They also have the experienced Per Kroldrup to help out.
Their key holding midfielder, Christian Poulson is a solid tackler and great distributor of the ball. With 74 caps the Juventus player is a key to the team’s success. Daniel Jensen is another veteran who scored the vital goal to beat Portugal away to ensure qualification.
Up front they have Nicklas Bentner of Arsenal, a strong finisher who at 22 is the second youngest players on the team. Although somewhat inconsistent he is a potential game winner. Alongside him, Soren Larsen has a nose for goals, hitting the net 11 times in 18 appearances. He led all scorers in the group ahead of Ronaldo. They also have Dennis Rommedahl and Jon-Dahl Tomasson who have both seen better days but whose experience could be valuable coming off the bench.
Bentner is still fighting a groin injury and has been ruled out of the game against Holland making their task that much more difficult.
Japan is somewhat of an enigma. With all but four of their players based in the J-League they have little experience at the top club level.
In defense they have Yuji Nakazawa, their central defensive linchpin and the heart of the team with over 100 caps. The balance of the defense has a considerable amount of international experience and will keep them in games.
Yasuhito Endo is one of their midfield keys with over 90 caps along with Keisuke Honda who featured prominently in CSKA Moscow’s charge to the quarter finals of the European Cup this past season.
Keiji Amada is another veteran up front with 16 goals and 70 appearances. Shinji Okazaki will probably be the other starter up front. He is lethal from close up and is a classic goal poacher with 16 in only 28 international appearances. He creates goals as well and will require close marking.
Whether their relative lack of experience in European leagues will hurt remains to be seen. Their style is similar to South Korea’s. They work together well as a team and have both speed and unflagging energy. A ‘never say die’ attitude will keep opponents honest and will be made to pay if they take Japan too lightly.
It’s a tribute to Dutch soccer that a relatively small country with a population of a little over 16 million can produce a constant supply of great players and teams since they emerged as a soccer power in the early 1970’s. Their current team is no different. Their Achilles heel could be in goal and in defense. They are loaded with world class talent in midfield and up front.
Since the international retirement of Edwin Van Der Saar they lack a world class keeper but Maarten Stekelenberg of Ajax is dependable and not prone to errors.
John Heitenga of Everton is a versatile defender and one of the keys to Everton’s solid performance in the Premier League. Gregory Van Der Wiel is a rising star with Ajax whose ability will be tested in South Africa. Veterans Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Andre Ooijer and Khalid Boulahrouz all have the necessary experience to see the team comfortably through the first round but might be troubled against some of their stronger potential opponents in the later rounds.
Mark Van Bommel is a tough defensive midfielder who will have to work hard on defense, something he is more than capable of having assumed that role at Bayern Munich for the past few seasons. Wesley Sneijder is the kingpin in the middle. He has few peers in Europe in the passing game and can dictate the pace as needed. His brilliance in set pieces and his knack for scoring from long range makes him the complete player. He was a key to Real Madrid’s midfield for three years when they inexplicably let him escape to Inter Milan where he has cemented his reputation, leading them to the triple.
Rafael Van Der Vaart of Real Madrid, Nigel De Jong of Manchester City and Denny De Zeew of Ajax complete a midfield that has few peers.
Up front they have Robin Van Persie of Arsenal who is coming of an injury plagued season at Arsenal but is now fully fit. Arjen Robben has resuscitated his career at Bayern Munich after a frustrating few years at Real Madrid. He plays mostly on the wing and both creates and scores goals as well as possessing deceptive speed. His receding hair and his already lengthy career belie his relatively young age of 26. Klaas Jan Huntelaar is another gifted striker who led the qualifying group in scoring but had a frustrating season at Real Madrid prior to his recent move to A.C. Milan and will probably be partnering Van Persie up front.
Whether Holland can finally put it all together and win the cup remains to be seen but if either Spain or Brazil falters they could finally win one. Cameroon has enough talent and experience to advance as well. Denmark and Japan will make their opponents work hard.
These two meet in the final group game by which time I expect both to have already secured their places in the next round. Holland rests a few players and Cameroon pulls off a mild surprise.