World Cup Daily: Dutch through to second round, Cameroon eliminated
The Netherlands beats Japan 1-0 and qualifies for the second round
Cameroon becomes the first African nation to be eliminated
Australia's Harry Kewell returned from injury but was sent off
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Saturday's play saw Cameroon become the first team to be eliminated from the competition with a 2-1 loss to Denmark, marooned at the bottom of Group E with no points. This despite a performance against Denmark that was so vastly different to the flat, ambling soccer we saw against Japan earlier in the week that it felt devilishly cruel -- even as you acknowledged the Danes worthy winners. The hopes of African nations now hang primarily on Ghana, atop the beguilingly inconclusive Group D table, and Ivory Coast, who face Brazil tomorrow.
Ghana's meeting with Australia earlier in the day was every bit as open, despite the imbalance in numbers after the Socceroos' Harry Kewell was dismissed in the 24th minute. In fact it was only the Netherlands' matte encounter with Japan that went against the general (this being the only point at which Algeria versus England is worth remembering) trend for second group matches being at least twice as entertaining as the first. Instead of adventure and panache we got neat and tidy possession play from the Dutch.
In 1954, West Germany lifted the trophy but began the tournament with an 8-3 hiding by Hungary; Italy's 1982 group matches (0-3-0, goal difference 0) hardly seemed to foretell its 3-1 triumph over the Germans in the final. The idea that champions rarely dazzle from the off is now as engrained in World Cup folklore as the notion that league champions are those teams that get a result without playing brilliant football. So perhaps everyone outside of the Netherlands should be concerned that the Oranje now has six points on the board but has barely got out of third gear in doing so.
It always seems a cop-out to go for scorers in this section, but Dennis Rommedahl's performance for Denmark today was eye-catching even without his 61st-minute goal. Muted against Holland and Nigel de Jong, the Danish winger found more space against a Cameroon side that committed bodies forward at every opportunity. Importantly, he matched his runs (dribbling success rate: 75 percent) with solid distribution (88 percent pass completion), playing Nicklas Bendtner in for Denmark's first and creating an excellent chance for Jon Dahl Tomasson not long before halftime.
Harry Kewell is still whining about being the second Australian to be sent off in two games in South Africa, but he has only himself to blame. He concedes that the ball did strike his arm, but that he could not get out of the way of the shot and was trying to use his chest. Besides the fact that his elbow certainly looks like it comes away from his waist towards the ball (and by a stroke of anatomical bad luck, pulls the rest of his arm with it), a side step to the right would've put the ball bang on his chest.
Things were tight between the Netherlands and Japan, the Dutch coming out on top and arguably claiming the game's MVP in Mark van Bommel. But a word about Yoshito Okubo, who refused to give up on pulling Japan towards goal. The Netherlands kept things compact after going one up but that didn't inhibit the Vissel Kobe forward -- check out this Cruyff turn for confidence.
You'd think we'd have learned, since someone first suggested it 2500 years ago but especially in the past few days, to expect the unexpected. But still, Group D threw us another curveball today when Ghana -- commanding against Serbia last week -- began its match against Australia feebly and failed to make the one-man advantage it enjoyed for 75 percent of it play. For its part, 10-man Australia -- anaemic while being led a merry dance by Germany -- battled gallantly.
Wesley Sneijder's goal against Japan was a lovely strike, no matter how much goalkeeping error contributed to it eventually finding the net. But there was no finer goal today than Rommedahl's: taking down Simon Kjaer's superb diagonal ball, he cuts back and after a fleeting glance goalwards, drags the ball inside of Jean Makoun and curls the ball into the far corner.
Paul le Guen is unfortunately the first World Cup coach to steer his team home again, but he deserves some credit for responding to the failings of his team in the first match. Alex Song, Geremi and Achille Emana all started the match, and the difference they -- and the consequent move of Samuel Eto'o into the middle of the frontline -- made to Cameroon's performance was evident from kickoff. The team notched up 23 shots at goal (more than double its tally against Japan), and might so easily have earned a draw that would have kept them in the running in Group E.
"It's shocking, because if anyone has protected Anelka, it's Domenech. Domenech has played Anelka throughout the past two years" -- vice president of the French Football Federation, Noel le Graet, after taking the decision to send Nicolas Anelka home immediately.
"Go f--k yourself, you dirty son of a b---h" -- what Anelka said to Raymond Domenech (shortly after the coach told him to stop moving out of position, and shortly before being subbed off against Mexico) to get himself into hot water.
After Cameroon's exit, African sides have played 11 matches, and won just one (Ghana's 1-0 victory over Serbia).
Gianluigi Buffon's herniated disc means Federico Marchetti will play in goal for Italy tomorrow. Andrea Pirlo is yet to recover from a calf injury. Tomorrow's opposition, New Zealand, will have Tim Brown (shoulder) back.
Paraguay has Jonathan Santana injured but Roque Santa Cruz is apparently fit to start the match against Slovakia -- which has Miroslav Stoch back from a knee injury.
The first two games of the day will go a long way toward shaping Group F, where things are currently all square. Slovakia and Paraguay will have rather different takes on their 1-1 results earlier in the week -- the former was 30 seconds away from a win, while the latter clung on to the result late on. Paraguay had started positively, however, and has promised to go for the win. Slovakia, meanwhile, should be more potent in attack with the return of Stoch, who'll slot in behind Robert Vittek and Stanislav Sestak.
Italy and New Zealand both confounded expectations in their first games, and this looks a slightly less one-sided match-up because of that. In all likelihood, New Zealand won't have enough to overpower Italy, but its aerial threat up front could still cause problems. In contrast, Marcello Lippi has been openly critical of his strikers in training this week -- Alberto Gilardino and Vicenzo Iaquinta notched up 0 shots on target between them against Paraguay.
In the day's last kick-off, Brazil meets Ivory Coast for the first time on a soccer pitch. Brazil will be unchanged from the side that defeated North Korea, while Ivory Coast appears likely to start Didier Drogba. His presence gives Sven Goran Eriksson's side the bite it lacked against Portugal, but Didier Zokora knows Ivory Coast must stay compact if it's to cope with the running of Robinho and Kaka.
Georgina Turner has worked as a sports journalist since 2003. She covers the English Premier League, but also reports on tennis and women's sports for UK magazines.
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