World Cup Preview: Group E
With the 2010 FIFA World Cup now just four weeks away, you should by now be able to visualise those wretched pull-out “Come On England” St. George’s flags which come free with The Sun, slowly yellowing at the edges in living room windows up and down the land until mid-September. Nevertheless, we at Twohundredpercent will instead continue to focus on the football. With that in mind, we sent Dotmund on another fact-finding mission with little else than a media badge from the 2006 World Club Championship in his pocket and a dream. Today, he looks at the colourful and exciting Group E.
Qualification 1st place in UEFA Group 9 FIFA Ranking 4 Best World Cup Runner-up (1974 & 1978) Last World Cup Last sixteen (P4 W2 D1 L1 F3 A2 (2006)) Head coach Bert van Marwijk (since December 2007) Most capped player Edwin van der Sar 130 (1995-2008) Top goalscorer Patrick Kluivert 40 (1994-2004).
The ninth appearance of a Dutch side in the World Cup finals will surely be accompanied by the same question which has dogged them since Total Football was overcome in the 1974 final: will it be this time? Holland were scintillating in qualifying, coming through an otherwise average group (Scotland, Norway, FYROM and Iceland), conceding just twice on their way to eight wins from eight, becoming the first European qualifier for this summer’s tournament in the process. Following on from their stylish, but ultimately unsuccessful, Euro 2008 campaign during which they demolished both France and Italy by three-goal margins, hopes will be high for South Africa.
The basis of their recent form has been an exceptionally stingy defence, which is all the more impressive considering that the last two years has seen the Oranje forced to change goalkeeper, following the international retirement of Edwin van der Sar after Euro 2008. His successor is Maarten Stekelenburg of Ajax. He sits behind a defence presided over by veteran left-back and team captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, now 35 and playing with Feyenoord. He will likely be joined by Joris Mathijsen of HSV and André Ooijer of PSV at centre-back, these three players were the only to be ever-present in the qualifying games. However, Ooijer is now also 35, so more youthful candidates for his spot include John Heitinga of Everton and Khalid Boulahrouz of Stuttgart. The right-hand side is likely to be given over to attack-minded Gregory van der Wiel of Ajax.
The midfield is fairly settled, with Bayern Munich enforcer Mark van Bommel, Manchester City anchor Nigel de Jong and Real Madrid playmaker Rafael van der Vaart the usual choice during the qualifiers. Attacking midfield duties may well also fall to Inter’s Wesley Sneijder, with Ibrahim Afellay of PSV another option. Demy de Zeeuw of Ajax is likely to be the preferred defensive back-up.
In attack, Holland are boosted by the return of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie from a long-term injury. However, he’ll have much to prove in order to regain a starting place, with Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and his fellow qualifying top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of Milan very much established as a trio. Huntelaar is the chief goal-getter, with Kuyt and Robben playing wider supporting roles. The Netherlands team haven’t had a really prolific front man since Ruud van Nistelrooy, but Huntelaar boasts a similar strike rate of one in two. Ryan Babel, Kuyt’s club teammate, will most likely provide the back-up, although HSV’s pacy and skilful Eljero Elia is another possibility.
The coach is Bert van Marwijk, who replaced Marco van Basten at the helm following Euro 2008. He’s a very well-established club coach in Europe, who has been in near-continual employment since the beginning of his managerial career twenty years ago, with the high point so far being winning the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002. Van Marwijk is assisted by Dutch football giants Philip Cocu and Frank de Boer, as well as being the father-in-law to current midfielder Mark van Bommel, which is simply bound to not complicate things.
Qualification 1st place in UEFA Group 1 FIFA Ranking 35 Best World Cup Quarter final (1998) Last World Cup Last sixteen (P4 W2 D1 L1 F5 A5 (2002)) Head coach Morten Olsen (since July 2000) Most capped player Peter Schmeichel 129 (1987-2001) Top goalscorer Tist Nielsen 52 (1910-1925).
Considering the continuing high reputation of Danish football, a hangover from the brilliant side of the 1980s and their success at Euro 92, it’s perhaps a little surprising to note that this summer will be only the fourth time Denmark have played in a World Cup finals. When they’ve qualified, however, they’ve never failed to get past the first stage. Last time they appeared on this stage, in 2002, they were the tormentors of the then-reigning champions France in their group stage, playing with typical fluency before succumbing to a tame defeat to England.
The coach now, as then, is Danish football legend Morten Olsen. He’s been an integral part of three of his country’s World Cup appearances: 2010 will be his second as manager, whilst in 1986 he was the libero in the flamboyant team also featuring Michael Laudrup. He is also the tournament’s most established coach in their job: not even Greece’s Otto Rehhagel can boast Olsen’s longevity in the manager’s seat. The Danish team have even been come to be known colloquially as “Olsen’s Eleven”. A manager of Ajax, Olsen’s favoured mode of play, predictably enough, is fluid and dynamic possession football. Its failure or success has generally fallen to the players.
The players have served him well so far during this campaign. Faced with a tricky group, including fierce rivals Sweden and Portugal, the Danes lost only once – at home to Hungary – to qualify reasonably comfortably. A number of the names and faces are also fairly familiar, Denmark continuing to produce a string of talented young players. One of the most recognisable names, however, is at risk of missing the tournament, which could well have a real knock-on effect on his country’s chances. Goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, a veteran of 86 games, was injured playing for Stoke City against Chelsea late last month, and faces a race to be ready for the kick off. His understudy during the qualifying games – and likely replacement – is Brondby’s Stephan Andersen, although Copenhagen’s Jesper Christensen has more international experience. Such is Sorensen’s importance, however, he is likely to make the trip regardless.
In defence, OB right-back Lars Jacobsen played all but one of the qualifying games. He’ll likely be joined by Daniel Agger of Liverpool and Per Koldrup of Fiorentina, both centre-backs. 21-year old Simon Kjaer of Palermo has also broken into contention in recent seasons. William Kvist of FC Kobenhavn may also feature, but as a true utility player, he may also feature in midfield or attack. That midfield is patrolled by Christian Poulsen, a ferocious competitor and no stranger to controversy on the big stage. He will probably play alongside Daniel Jensen of Werder Bremen, although Jakob Poulsen (no relation) of AGF is another option. Creativity is still provided by Martin Jorgensen, also now of AGF, although Thomas Kahlenburg of Wolfsburg is an option if Jorgensen is pushed further forward.
Olsen has always favoured the 4-3-3 formation now standard throughout the European game, with two outside forwards supplying a single striker. The right-sided player of the three will almost certainly be either Dennis Rommedahl, once of Charlton Athletic and now at Ajax, or Arsenal’s Niklas Bendtner, who is also in contention for the centre forward position. On the left could be Peter Nymann of Esbjerg, a recent newcomer to the international game, although Michael Krohn-Dehli of Brondby or Kobenhavn’s former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer are also in contention. Up front, Soren Larsen of Toulouse was the top scorer during qualifying and boasts 11 goals in 17 international games. His key rival for the role, other than Bendtner, is likely to be veteran Jon Dahl Tomasson of Feyenoord. Deep-lying forward Tomasson is the Danes’ second-highest goalscorer of all time, just two strikes away from the 85-year old record.
Qualification 2nd place in AFC Round 4 Group A FIFA Ranking 45 Best World Cup Last sixteen (2006) Last World Cup First round (P3 W0 D1 L2 F2 A7 (2006)) Head coach Takeshi Okada (since December 2007 (also 1997-98) Most capped player Masama Ihara 122 (1988-1999) Top goalscorer Kunishige Kamamoto 75 (1964-1977).
Japan head into their fourth successive World Cup finals as the tournament’s first qualifier, along with their AFC Group A rivals Australia. Undoubtably one of the most dominant of the Asian teams, Japan still struggle to prove it on a consistent basis and will arrive in South Africa trying to secure their first ever World Cup finals tournament victory on foreign soil.
Qualification was as comfortable as Japan have been accustomed to in recent years, with just one loss – to Australia at the MCG – along the way. There’s little doubt that the growth from minnows to more-or-less automatic World Cup qualifiers stems from the explosion of their national J-League in the early 1990s. Now one of Asia’s strongest competitions, this year the J-League looks likely to be able to boast that the majority – if not all – of the Japanese 23-man squad play their club football in their native league competition.
Japan’s team continue to be built on a solid foundation of defence and midfield, with a consistent striker at international level still eluding them. In goal would almost certainly have been Seigo Narazaki of Grampus Eight, who assumed the number 1 status from ex-Portsmouth man Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi – now at Jubilo – after the latter sustained a broken leg. But with Kawaguchi almost certainly missing out, Narazaki himself is in doubt after breaking a finger. Should he not recover sufficiently, Eiji Kawashima of Kawasaki Frontale is most likely to step up.
The defence is led by team captain Yuji Nakazawa of Yokohama F. Marinos. A veteran of 102 internationals, Nakazawa is a crucial figure for Japan both at the back and in terms of his goal threat from set-pieces, finishing as one of four joint-top scorers in the qualifiers. Another defender can make the same boast, Brazil-born sweeper Tulio of Nagoya Grampus Eight. Other important figures in the Japanese defence are Atsudo Uchida of Kashima Antlers, and fellow full-back Yuichi Komano of Jubilo Iwata. Utility man Yuki Abe of Urawa Red Diamonds is also likely to feature, either in the back line or midfield.
With the forwards failing to fire during qualifying, it is two of the frequent members of this midfield who complete the top-scorer quartet. Yatsuhito Endo of Gamba Osaka is a set-piece specialist and the reigning Asian Footballer of the Year, whilst Shunsuke Nakamura – once of Celtic and now at Yokahama F. Marinos – is probably his country’s most famous (and most talented) current player. Nakamura, also a free-kick specialist, offers more of an attacking drive than Endo, who tends to sit deep. They will be joined by Junichi Inamoto, another name familiar to British fans, an attacking midfielder who plays for Kawasaki Frontale; Makoto Hasebe, one of the squad’s rare foreign-based players, who plays in Germany for Wolfsburg and Kengo Nakamura, a clubmate of Inamoto’s.
The forwards misfired during qualifying, although in Shimuzu S-Pulse’s Shinji Okazaki, Japan have a player with a highly respectable international goalscoring average, with 16 in just 25 games. His partner will most likely be Keiji Tamada of Grampus Eight, the top-scoring striker during qualifying with 2. They will be backed-up by attacker Yoshito Okubo, who has had a good season with Vissel Kobe. One for the future, perhaps, is Takayuki Morimoto, not yet 22 and playing for Catania in Italy, a player of promising speed and skill.
The coach will be Takeshi Okada. This is his second spell in charge of Japan, and his second World Cup finals. He assumed the role after the incumbent, Serb Ivica Osim suffered a stroke in late-2007. So far, so good, as he has led Samurai Blue to qualification for both the World Cup and the 2011 Asian Cup. However, his Japan side are still resolutely yet to set the world alight, either, so the jury remains very much out – especially considering his national federation’s recent marked preference for big-name foreign coaches for their side.
Qualification 1st place in CAF Round 3 Group A FIFA Ranking 19 Best World Cup Quarter final (1990) Last World Cup First round (P3 W1 D1 L1 F2 A3 (2002)) Head coach Paul le Guen (since July 2009) Most capped player Rigobert Song 133 (1993-present) Top goalscorer Samuel Eto’o 44 (1996-present).
Since their heroics twenty years ago during Italia 90, Cameroon have been very much on the radar of world football. However, their performances at international level have rarely backed this reputation up: South Africa will be their sixth finals tournament, and aside from their run to the quarter finals in 1990, they have never been past the first stage.
This time round, Cameroon qualified by topping their group by four points. However, this is a little deceptive, as they only secured their passage on the final day. With their rivals Gabon falling to a last-day away defeat, Cameroon’s qualification was granted much more of a comprehensive sheen. In this year’s African Cup of Nations, they were eliminated on penalties in the quarter-finals, having been runner-up two years before. This is Cameroon’s problem in a nutshell: although their quality is beyond doubt, they continue to blow hot and cold in competitive situations. It’s hard to know which of their multiple personalities will show up from game to game.
One thing remains a constant, however, and that is that the Indomitable Lions are a difficult team to beat – the majority of their eliminations from tournaments are due to a preponderance of drawn games, rather than losses. Whether or not this is due to an overperforming defence or an underperforming attack, however, is more open for debate.
Their defence begins with Espanyol’s highly-respected goalkeeper, Idriss Carlos Kameni, a veteran of the side at age 26 with one World Cup, runners-up medals for the Confederation Cup and African Cup of Nations and an Olympic Gold already under his belt. In front of him, Rigobert Song remains an important part of the side – like Kameni, the ex-Liverpool and West Ham centre-back was ever-present throughout the qualifiers, although he lost his starting spot for the ACN in January. Now at Trabzonspor, it’s hard to underestimate the value of Song’s service to his country. As well as being its most capped individual, he has contributed 38 goals from defence. Whether or not he’s a first-team starter in South Africa – coach Le Guen’s more-or-less first act was to strip him of the captaincy – it’s hard to imagine him not being there. The people who are likely to partner – or replace – Song in the defence are Burnley’s Andre Bikey, AS Monaco’s Nicholas N’Koulou – a transfer target for a number of top European clubs, including Arsenal – and Gilles Binya of Neuchatel Xamax. Ankaragucu’s Geremi, a player very familiar to English football fans after his eight year-spell with Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Newcastle, is the team’s dynamic right-back.
Cameroon base their team around an expansive and highly-skilled midfield, often with six or more players primarily recognised as midfielders in their starting line-up. Defensive midfielders Alex Song of Arsenal (who may also line up in defence), Jean Makoun of Lyon – one of only three ever-presents in the qualifiers – and Marseille’s Stephane Mbia are regular picks. More forward-thinking urge is provided by Achille Emana of Real Betis and Almeria’s Modeste Mbami, although he missed out on the ACN squad this year. In attack, the team’s captain and most high-profile player is Samuel Eto’o of Internazionale. He, predictably, is the team’s key goal threat and was the top scorer during the qualifiers with an impressive 9 from 11 games. Real Mallorca’s Pierre Webo was his most frequent partner in qualifying, although he is likely to battle for his place with Mohammadou Idrissou of Frieburg, who provides more of an aerial presence.
The coach is Paul Le Guen, a man well-known to supporters of Rangers after his rather eccentric spell in charge in 2006, becoming the club’s shortest-lived manager of all time in the process. He’s been much more successful in his native France, with three consecutive titles at Lyon in the early part of the last decade. His tenure at Paris-Saint-Germain, however, was more problematic, skirting the relegation places throughout. Cameroon came calling after PSG declined to extend his contract. They are his first international appointment.
MY (useless) PREDICTION
I think that Holland will have too much quality for this group, and should come out as comfortable winners. Indeed, if they play as they did in the group stages for Euro 2008 and are able to sustain it, I think they are potential champions. Big ‘if’, there. Picking a second is much, much tougher. I think Japan will, yet again, be outclassed away from Asian soil. But both Denmark and Cameroon are strong candidates for a second-round spot. Cameroon have the theoretical benefit of being on African soil, but have only qualified from the World Cup groups once, whilst Denmark have never failed to do so. I fancy that Cameroon’s notable tendency towards drawing games rather than winning them could be their downfall here.