Cameroon vs. Denmark, Saturday, June 17 at 2:30 p.m. EST
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria.
Follow the live blog of the game here at Bleacher Report!
Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o knows his legacy depends on the national team's results at the 2010 World Cup.
"At the end of this World Cup, [manager] Paul [Le Guen] will be accountable to his officials, who trusted him. And I, as a player and captain of this team, I will do the same," Eto'o told members of the press following Cameroon's shocking upset loss at the hands of group minnows Japan.
As Cameroon's all-time leading scorer and by far the most high profile player the small West African nation has ever produced, Eto'o is used to seeing an outsized share of the blame when his team falls short of expectations. Most recently, all-time great Indomitable Lion, Roger Milla, expressed doubts about Eto'o's national team commitment.
In response, Eto'o not only stoked the flames of his personal rivalry with the 58-year-old Milla, but threatened—somewhat unconvincingly—to leave the team on the eve of the World Cup. Perhaps it was inappropriate for Eto'o to make such a statement, but it was equally inappropriate for Milla to question his dedication to the national team cause.
Eto'o also knows that the Indomitable Lions have never had greater expectations coming into the World Cup. For the first time in six tournament appearances, however, they shocked the world and their supporters alike by losing a match they definitely should have won.
If he is to forever silence his doubters, Eto'o knows he must lead his team into the knockout stages of the tournament. Though with Denmark coming up, and with the Netherlands on the horizon, it would take a miraculous recovery of form to do so.
Can Cameroon vanquish equally desperate Denmark and preserve their hopes of World Cup glory?
What to Expect From Denmark
Like Japan, Denmark are a counterattacking team.
Their strength is their solidly organized defense, led by such European stars as goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and young central defenders David Agger and Simon Kjaer. Olsen's Eleven, as they are affectionately known, play a 4-5-1 formation that allows them to clamp down on the middle of the field and counterattack quickly along the wings when they win the ball.
Unlike the Japanese, who really lacked a credible offensive threat for most of the match on Monday, Denmark's lone striker, Nicklas Bendtner, is quite adept at his role. He is also supported by a host of talented playmakers, including Juventus' Christian Poulsen and Ajax veteran Dennis Rommedahl.
Bendtner, at 6'4" and 12 and a half stone, not only fits the physical mould of the ideal center forward, but knows his position well after over 100 appearances with Premiership club Arsenal. Bendtner's skill set combines excellent aerial ability with a a surprisingly soft passing touch. Thus, the towering Dane can hold the ball in the center of the field long enough for his teammates to slide into favorable positions, but he also possesses deadly finishing form that has netted him 11 national team goals in 33 matches.
On the defensive for most of the game against the Netherlands, Denmark only managed three shots on goal against a Dutch defense unit that is considered the team's weak point. As much as his team mustered a coherent threat, Bendtner was involved, but Denmark will look to improve on their overall offensive effort against Cameroon.
Hard Lessons for Cameroon
"Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it," said Edmund Burke.
In his post-match press conference, Le Guen showed no signs that he'd learned his lesson from the Japan match.
"We were tense and nervous, especially in the first half. We did not show what we are capable of. We were not at our level and kept losing possession."
While nothing he said wasn't true, it was shocking that Le Guen failed to mention the manifold strategic errors he made long before the opening whistle. The sole concession he made was that playing Eto'o on the wing, rather than in his usual central position, "didn't work."
Eto'o was out of place, to be sure, but that only scratches the surface of what was wrong with the team's deployment.
The Lions looked uncomfortable and unsure for the full 90 minutes in the 4-3-3 formation into which Le Guen forced them. They played with three defensive midfielders who, while all individually skilled, had no idea what to do in possession of the ball.
Furthermore, better defensive midfielders, like Alex Song and Landry N'Guemo were left on the bench in favor of untested youngsters Joel Matip and Eyong Enoh.
There was no link between the three man forward line and the three defensive-minded midfielders who sat in front of the back line the whole match. Why Le Guen did not start Achille Emana, Cameroon's best attacking midfielder, he would not say. Thus, not only was Eto'o forced to play on the wing, but there was nobody delivering him or the other forwards the ball without lobbing it 20 yards into a sea of Japanese defenders.
Despite their pre-tournament emphasis on stretching the field with their full backs and speedy wing midfielders working the flanks and launching crosses, the team generated no wing play on Monday. This can be traced to the same inexplicable deployment of three defensive midfielders and three forwards instead of a diamond formation of one defensive midfielder, one attacking midfielder, and two wingers (behind two, instead of three forwards).
If Le Guen hasn't learned from his mistake, all Cameroon fans can do is pray.
Denmark like to sit back and punish teams that push too far forward. Against the Netherlands, they looked quite comfortable on and off the ball until they conceded an own goal early in the second half. Now, with a -2 goal differential, teetering on the brink of elimination, Olsen's Eleven must attack. Can they take control of the match and go on the offensive against Cameroon?
Cameroon, as well, must play for the win, but can they play up to their ability and avoid lapses in discipline against a team that are far better equipped than Japan to exploit them?
Overall, both teams' desperation should make this match less cautious and more open, a factor that on balance should favor the attacking style of Cameroon.
Eto'o will play in the middle of the pitch this time, and hopefully Achille Emana will be right behind him, providing the crucial link between defense and offense that was absent in the first match. However, in order to dissect the Danes, Cameroon must make use of the wings in the offensive third of the pitch. If they can combine a more effective frontal assault with flanking runs from the midfield and defense, they should be able to take it to their Nordic adversaries.
The task will severely test the Lions; the Danes looked like the superior team on Monday.
Faithful as ever to the indomitable spirit of the Indomitable Lions, however, I trust them to turn things around. This World Cup means too much to Eto'o to lose again.
My head says Denmark. My heart says Cameroon. I never follow sense over sensibility.
Goals courtesy of Pierre Webo through the air and a late winner from man of the match Eto'o on the ground.
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