Overview: Holland strolled to a win, not because of attacking, but because of tight defending. Japan did exactly the same, with experimental tactics prepared very carefully and trained very thoroughly that have shown them as a very good team in the tournament. Cameroon and Denmark both flopped, honestly, and this group's final outcome was very just in end, with the Danes failing to qualify from a World Cup group for the first time and Cameroon continuing years of poor form.
GOAL DIFFERENCE (FOR, AGAINST)
Dutch Engine Gets a Long Warm Up While Waiting For Robben Tribute
Chuf chuf sputter the badly oiled engine,
With lots of shots far off the margins,
The Dutch have collected full points,
Without even warming up their joints,
Now it's time to turn on the style,
And secure their first World Cup by a mile.
It's as if the Dutch were waiting for Arjen Roben to recover from injury before really showing the world the famous attacking machine that Holland is known and loved to be.
While the pre-tournament worry was about their defensive ability, this department seemed to perform excellently, while the offence was wasteful, and frankly, unusually un-entertaining. Bert van Marwijk gambled on strengthening the defence for this group and came out the winner, really preparing the team for the upcoming challenges.
Several of the Dutch players, including van Persie, van der Vaart, and to a lesser degree, Sneijder, are not performing up to their famously high standards, in a similar fashion to club colleagues from France, Spain, Italy, and England. With nine points, the Dutch ended up not having any problems advancing, while improving their team's defensive skills.
When Robben came on at the end of the final game, the engine suddenly increased in RPMs dramatically, and a goal came out of it. This is much more what is to be expected from the Dutch in the playoff round.
The Dutch have seemed more adequate in every department except the actual forward line, which consists almost exclusively of van Persie since Babbel and Huntelaar have not played that much. The real strength of this team is in that they allow very few opportunities for opponents to reach their defence.
The Dutch should have no problem dispatching the capable Slovak team, but then again, everything seems backwards sometimes at the South Africa World Cup.
Japan’s sushi doesn’t fall off the rice.
Gambaro—A Japanese encouragement, which means work hard, and is used for almost anything.
Obviously, excellent preparation for this World Cup has resulted in a clockwork team, which defends better than any previous Japanese team fielded in an international tournament. Manager Takeshi Okada has really worked the freekicks, the team defence, and the attacking movement, and his players are performing much better than normal.
His most interesting achievement was to get Keisuke Honda from drowning in his own ego after his recent successes, and harnessing the power of this very, very interesting player.
Primarily in defence, the outstanding duo of Nakazawa and Tanaka works impressively with goalkeeper Kawashima, which makes attacking the Japanese very difficult indeed. The two defensive midfielders of Abe and Endo shield the team from attacks, and the team go forward on the pivot of Honda, who, much like Forlan for Uruguay, receives the ball up front waiting for his colleagues to run onto his passes.
This has been highly effective so far.
Japan will have an extremely difficult test with Paraguay, who does all that they do, but better. Paraguay is possibly the worst opponent for them to face at this stage, as they could have had more success against many other teams. Expect a tight battle that could easily go to penalties, unless one side breaks under the extreme pressure that the match will produce.
John Dahl Tomasson Slips on a Herring
A fantastic Danish generation was recalled for this tournament, but very sadly, they were mostly past their peaks... this is especially unfortunate given that their participation at the last Euro tournament was undermined by a rampaging home fan, a tournament which they could have dazzled at.
Denmark lacked fitness... and mainly due to their best players being too old. The great names of Martin Jørgensen, Jesper Grønkjær, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Thomas Sørensen, Daniel Jensen, and Christian Poulsen were all off the beat and the younger players were not yet demonstrating their potential. The 10-year reign of coach Morten Olsen seems to be running a little over its peak as well, and a fresher approach could, or could not, bring fresher results.
Dennis Rommedahl deserves a special mention, as he and young Simon Kjaer really stood out from the rest of the team. Rommedahl looked like he was single-handedly going to lead Denmark to upsetting Holland, and demolished Cameroon with his wing play and scoring.
Kjaer still has an entire career ahead of him, but for Dennis, it's probably a last major outing.
The famous Danish 4-4-2 has failed utterly for the first time since Olsen took over... it has been effective at beating all sizes and types of opponents over the past decade, so this can rightly be called the end of a glorious era for Denmark, with not much to show for it.
The Cameroonese Lyon Never Made it Through South African Customs
The Lyon wasn’t even on the bus
Too much is expected of Samuel Eto’o, and while Cameroonian fans will blame him for this great disappointment, many of his colleagues were deadweights in controversial manager Paul Le Guen’s messy team-building and tactical deployments.
Cameroon were weak in every department—only the goalkeeper and defender N’Koulou really stood out with exceptional performances. Why Le Guen didn’t use the veterans and Achille Emana, we will never know... this Cameroon team will be best forgotten, and Samuel Eto’o joins a long list of superb players who didn’t manage to deliver as much for their country as for their clubs.
Cameroon’s problems were that the three lines, meaning the defence, offence, and midfield, had sincere trouble connecting, and therefore, the attacking play was disorganized and desperate. Another problem was that the normally strong Cameroonians failed to recuperate the ball sufficiently.
Paul Le Guen’s squad selection was very mediocre. He played the excellent ball winner M’Bia of Marseille in defence, used Alexander Song on the wing, and favoured 18-year-old Joel Matip of Schalke with barely any experience to run the Cameroon team’s midfield.
He tried to play Eto’o in midfield, despite this not having worked in countless previous attempts, as the player is a dedicated attacker. He also left out the experienced Rigobert Song and used the strong Achille Emana as a substitute... all decisions that backfired. These tactics can be labelled as suicidal, and Le Guen leaves this tournament, and the Cameroon bench, as a major flop.
Eleven Performances to Remember
Another great Japanese goalkeeper. The fact that Japan got through this group conceding only two goals, one of which was the result of an unfair penalty which he even managed to save, is a monumental achievement for the Kawasaki Frontale shot-stopper, who, for those who don’t know Japanese football, was a surprise starter over his two, more experienced glove-wearing colleagues.
Hounourable Mention: Souleymanou Hamidou
In Turkish Kayserispor’s Hamidou Cameroon, they have a more stable goalkeeper than the more skilled Kameni. None of the goals which Cameroon allowed where his fault, and he managed to pull off several excellent saves. Well played.
Joint Best of The Group: Yuji Nakazawa
This tall Japanese defender has been spectacular this tournament. He plays his club football for the modest Yokohama Marinos, but he has 107 appearances for Japan, and played in all of Japan’s matches getting no yellow cards and no reds and not missing a single tackle... a real achievement for a central defender.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka
Everywhere in Japan’s defence at the same time, and forming an excellent partnership with Nakazawa, both are the first honestly good defence that the Japanese team has ever fielded. His physical strength and tackling ability is really an asset for Japan. He does the ground work, Nakazawa the airwork. The Nagoya Grampus defender’s statistics of tackling and passing are right up there with the best at this World Cup.
Honourable Mention: Nicolas N’Koulou
A pass completion of 87 percent and a good defensive performance in what was a poor Cameroon side, his defensive statistics show that he is already a great player and has potential to be even greater. A move to a club like Arsenal from his current Monaco would really be mutually beneficial.
Honourable Mention: Simon Kjaer
He was a high note in the Danish dramatic musical. His defending was better than his more illustrious colleague Agger, and Denmark looked unassailable at times as the young Palermo star put in an air-tight defensive performance. A big club move is pending for him already the second season running.
Very Honourable Mention: Dennis Rommedahl
One of Denmark’s best performers, his game againt Cameroon and his first half threat to Denmark was superb. The 31-year-old Ajax winger is the last of a great Danish generation that still had it in him to do well here, and his wing performance just might have been the best of the tournament so far.
A superb freekick goal against Denmark has been the least of contributions. As a defensive midfielder he is filling something of a Gatusso role for Japan and excellent in defensive midfield.
Nigel de Jong
Rather surprisingly included over the more offensive Demy de Zeeuw of Ajax, the Manchester City defensive midfielder has been excellent in protecting the Dutch defence from too much work in all three matches. Van Marwijk has simplified his main role, and he is playing better for country than club.
Mark van Bommel
Very solid for Holland all three games, the Bayern Munich midfielder is a major cylinder in the Dutch engine, with loads of offensive and defensive input, doing all of the dirty work on the pitch to a World Class level.
He has organized Japan’s midfield in a spectacular fashion, and it's no surprise the Wolfsburg man has pushed the more famous Junichi Inamoto off the first team with great passing, movement, and work ethic for Japan.
Not as good as with Inter this season, but good. He has done just enough as a playmaker, and hopefully can explode into what he is really capable of during the playoff phase. What is interesting is his considerable defensive input, which we have not often seen in the past.
An “A” for unbreaking work ethic from the Liverpool man. If the Dutch succeed in South Africa, his input is set to be key.
Honourable Mention: Elijero Elia
The Hamburg winger has been dazzling with dribbles and even assists as a substitute, and it's a shame Dutch coach van Marwijk doesn’t give him more time instead of the mediocre van der Vaart.
Joint Best of The Group: Keisuke Honda
His outstanding form with Venlo in the Dutch league gave way to brilliant performances with CSKA Moscow in the Champions League and Russian Premier League, and now his calculated, clever offensive play for Japan has been one of the high points of the tournament.
His freekick against Denmark might rank as one of the goals of the tournament the way it curled away from Sorensen, and his unselfish assist at the end of the match resulted in a team goal.
Honourable Mention: Vincent Aboubakar
The 18-year-old still plays his football in Cameroon with Cotonsport Garoua, and looked very dangerous when he came on against Denmark. It's a shame Paul le Guen didn’t give him more time, as he really seems quite a prospect.
Coach: Takeshi Okada
The Japanese coach has prepared his team spectacularly, with an excellent highlighting of their strength and compensation for their many weaknesses in his tactical approach. They have obviously spent monumental amounts of time training freekicks and their attacking movements, performing to an excellent degree in South Africa so far.
Eleven Flops to Forget
The South African Referee had one of the worst performances during the Japan, Denmark game, awarding a penalty for a Daniel Agger dive, carding two Japanese players for delay of game in the first twenty minutes without any real warning or logic, and missing many heavy fouls altogether.
This great and experienced keeper fell for every trick in the book, and will be considered this World Cup as a personal failure. Some of his saves were exceptional, but he is one of the players that seemed to have trouble with the Jabulani ball, never really catching it correctly.
This resulted in a number of goals.
Additionally, he got fouled with the second Japanese free kick, and although he had some good saves in all three matches, Sorensen proved once and for all that he is no Peter Schmeichel.
The Blackburn Rovers man was nowhere nearly as good as his club colleague Ryan Nelsen of New Zealand, and the image of him that remains from this tournament is his flapping offsides hand when the opponents are halfway to the goal perfectly legally.
Proof that moving to the Danish league six months prior to the World Cup won’t help you re-find your brilliant form: Once a great player, but horribly out of shape at this tournament, Denmark’s loyalty to him was sadly not paid off.
He only played 47 minutes and failed to bring his Werder Bremen form to Denmark. He should have been playing a key role in South Africa for his country, but instead polished the bench with his buns.
Needed Criticism: Christian Poulsen
He continued his weak season at Juventus with and under-par turnout in South Africa. He used to be a great defensive midfielder, especially in blocking the opponents’ creativity, but looked out of sorts against Japan and Holland.
Flop of The Group: Jean Makoun
What happened? After moving from Lille to Lyon he never really recovered his incredible Flanders form. Here, he was next to abysmal, and a waste of 209 minutes on the pitch doing little to nothing.
Eric Choup Moting
There is a fine line in introducing new and exciting youth, and another in calling up and playing for 147 minutes a player who is still very much on the fringes of his modest German club Nurnberg. The result: The attacker didn’t even get a shot on goal, and ate up Cameroon’s precious energy with wasteful play.
The former Wolfsburg and Mallorca man, now of Vissel Kobe, was one of the few underperformers on the Japanese team, and contributed to their success by wasting several chances and creating too little.
Robin van Persie
Yes, he finally scored, but he also looked as exciting as moss on a tree for most of his three games played. Recovering from a long injury, van Persie needs to get his game in gear if the Dutch are to do well at this World Cup.
After 168 minutes on the pitch, the fans and he were finally put out of their misery after he was benched. He is normally a great player with club Mallorca, but if we criticize Eto’o for underperforming for Cameroon, Webo has been something of a refrigerator in Cameroon’s attack at the Nation’s Cup and World Cup. He managed only two shots on goal in two games, and not very good ones.
Jon Dahl Tomasson
The 33-year-old is Denmark’s all-time-leading top-scorer and has done great things in the past, but this World Cup was decisively over-the-hill for him. He was usually late to the ball, implying poor fitness from the Feyenoord man, and squandered many opportunities that fell to his feet, especially against Japan.
Coach: Paul le Guen
Who ever said that choosing young players over veterans is right solution?
He drafted numerous foreign-born players onto the Cameroon squad, and completely failed to integrate his 23 into any sort of team. Great players all looked out of their depth, and that is the responsibility of a coach. This is not the first time we have seen this, as Cameroon was reminiscent of Le Guen’s nearly relegated Paris Saint Germain of recent years.
His departure will be a good thing for Cameroon.