Monday, June 7, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group E Preview

One of only two groups without a past champion, Group E should be a Dutch delight. Holland are the heavy favorites following an impressive qualifying campaign, but Denmark, Cameroon and Japan will look to impede their progress. Here's a closer inspection.

Holland have built a reputation as a consistently entertaining side that threatens but ultimately falls short of final victory. The 2010 edition appears to fit the mold. The talented trio of Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will be complemented by the determined play of scrappy Dirk Kuyt. Together they give the Dutch a strike force as good as any in the tournament. We haven't seen Holland in a major tournament without Edwin van der Sar in net in well over a decade. How well his successor, Maarten Stekelenburg, plays will be critical given the shaky reputation of the Dutch fullbacks. If the goals come in bunches as they did at Euro 2008, Holland will win the group easily.

Denmark arrive at the World Cup having topped Europe's deepest qualifying group, one that featured Portugal, Sweden and Hungary. Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner leads the offense, while midfielder Christian Poulsen is the team's nucleus. While the fixture list gets off to a tough start against Holland, if they can avoid disaster, they'll find the knockout stages for a third time in as many tournaments.

Twenty years ago, Cameroon were the underdog darlings of the World Cup. Their performance in Italy that summer sparked the African soccer movement that brings the tournament to the continent for the first time. This time a trip to the knockout rounds would be less surprising, especially with Samuel Eto'o on the roster. The Inter Milan star threw a hissy fit last week when Cameroon great Roger Milla questioned his credentials. And while he needs to be at his best for the Indomitable Lions to advance, he can't do it alone. Towering Mohamadou Idrissou has the potential to add goals, while Rigobert Song and Geremi lead the defense.

Japan are in the unfortunate position of group whipping boy. A lifeless offense in the games leading up to the World Cup dampen the Blue Samurai's hopes for a first ever tournament win outside of their homeland. Twenty-four year-old midfielder Keisuke Honda represents their best hopes of pulling an upset.

Prediction: The Cameroon-Denmark match in the second round of games looms as the group's key showdown. Assuming Holland top the quartet, expect the winner of that game to take second. The Danes impressive qualifying run and past group stage success make them the pick.

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