A match so good even Peter Drury couldn’t spoil it. “Two nations living just a little on their history,” he notes, as the teams come out. And, as an English football commentator, he should know. The unfashionable games are becoming the ones to watch, after Slovenia v America yesterday, and now this. Expect Slovakia v Paraguay to be a humdinger. This one quickly becomes a particularly “good watch,” the verb “to watch” turned into a noun – as ITV blast from the past Ron Atkinson used to do (“that’s a good arrive by Robson” etc…).
Cameroon appear to have undergone a radical shake-up, with centre-forwards playing at centre-forward and Alex Song and Geremi playing at all. “Eto’o will be happy to be playing alongside Webo,” says Drury, possibly introducing Eto’o to an entirely new emotion. Achille Webo does make Eto’o’s 11th minute opener, but only after the Danish back line faff around with the ball – the green shirts of Cameroon’s advancing forwards apparently some sort of camouflage. Eto’o has enough time and space to make his finish one for the cameras, if he wants to. He does.
Daniel Agger is described as a “recognised centre-back,” which will have confused most watching Liverpudlians. But no-one will be as confused as Charlton fans watching the Dennis Rommedahl tribute act destroying Cameroon down their left flank. He sets up Nicklas Bendtner for a full-stretch finish that tests Bendtner’s groin strain to the max. Danish manager Morten Olsen appears to have been left Hollywood silent movie star Harold Lloyd’s glasses in Lloyd’s will. And the Danish fans are the oldest-looking bunch of the tournament to date, possibly the same people, sat in the same order, who cheered them on in Mexico in 1986.
Andy Townsend’s half-time analysis is mysteriously getting belly-laughs from the production staff, who appear to genuinely find him funny as opposed to laughing at him. And the three minutes before the break ensure Townsend is not short of material. Cameroon’s forwards sneak up un-noticed on a holidaying Danish rearguard again, Eto’o hitting the post this time. And Achille Emana, who takes the wrong option on an industrial scale, is allowed to pass un-harmed as Denmark’s centre-backs form a guard of honour, before hitting his shot straight at an unsuspecting Thomas Sorensen in the Danish goal. “Defending right out of the Billy Smart’s manual,” declares Drury, showing his age. “It’s not all defenders,” pleads co-commentator and former left-back Jim Beglin.
The voices inside Ray Winstone’s head during the half-time Betfair365 advert declare “Denmark to win 9-4.” But it isn’t clear whether these are the odds or a prediction of the final score. The second half, if anything, is better than the first. Cameroon need to win and can’t defend, so the ingredients are there. But quality needs to be there too. And Eto’o in particular is providing it. Danish defender Simon Kjaer “looks dazed” after one clash of heads. But he’s been defending like that since kick-off, and pinged a “perfect diagonal” to the Bootleg Rommedahl to start the move for Denmark’s goal, so the Danes leave him on.
The turning point(s) arrive just past the hour. Webo’s turn in the box is Johan Cruyff-esque, his shot, Johan Elmander-esque. And within 17 seconds of the ball eventually dribbling into Sorensen’s hands, Denmark are ahead. Bendtner returns the earlier favour to “Rommedahl,” who is given the freedom of Pretoria to cut inside and curl a left-foot shot into the net. Gareth Southgate later reveals that Sebastien Bassong’s reluctance to close “Rommedahl” down is encouraged by Bendtner having got hold of him. Southgate seems offended when Adrian Chiles marks this down as blatant cheating, preferring to label it “clever.” But Chiles is right, even though Bassong’s reluctance stretches to not complaining about being fouled so significantly.
“Jon-Dahl Tomasson, is he still going?” was the question on people’s lips when the teams were read out. And we’re no nearer an answer by the time he’s substituted, having missed a gilt-edged chance to make the game safe. As Cameroon’s football gets better in the later stages, their finishing gets worse, possibly linked to the introduction of Mohamadou Idrissou, who played like a tree-trunk during this year’s African Cup of Nations, and is similarly arboreal tonight. But Cameroon’s luck is out, too. Emana takes a right option, by way of variety, on 77 minutes, shooting low to Sorensen’s right. The Stoke man gets down to the ball at approximately warp factor three.
Cameroon’s other late substitute, 18-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, has an altogether more galvanising effect and wellies one goalwards in the 85th minute. But the ball hits one of the increasing number of Poulsens in Denmark’s backline as he lies flat out after a previous challenge. If Poulsen had had the first clue what was going on, he’d probably have tried to get out of the way of the shot. Instead, it’s a corner. There’s time for Idrissou to miss a sitter, to no-one’s great surprise, and for Sorensen to be ridiculously booked for time wasting after he elects, wisely you would have thought, not to take a goalkick whilst a substitution is being made.
Cameroon are out after two games, thanks to coach Paul Le Guen playing silly buggers with the line-up for their first game and very much despite their contribution to this match.Before the match, Chiles said he had been sitting next to Le Guen at Brazil’s opening game against Croatia in the 2006 finals. Southgate noted that Chiles could be next to Le Guen before the end of this year’s finals. And, now, he could. Nonetheless, a fantastic match.
Thanks again to Historical Football Kits for the kind use of their graphics.