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Soccer Fri Jun 11 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group E

All the teams in Group E don't mind throwing players forward. They all want to play an offensive style. The question, then, is which teams will be able to withstand each other, and which teams' attack will be too much to withstand.

Favorites to not only get out of the group but make a serious run for the title, the Oranje will have to overcome the injury epidemic as well as a history rife with missed chances, unfulfilled expectations, and heartbreak. Euro 2008 was just the latest disappointment -- losing to Russia after beating Italy and France seemed almost typical. But coach Bert van Marwijk got his team back on track, getting eight wins from eight games in qualifying, and Holland is flying into the World Cup.

Despite all the talk about their broken promises, one thing's for sure. Notwithstanding the shaky hamstrings of Arjen Robben (coming off a scorching time at Bayern Munich), Holland doesn't lack attacking options. Even without Robben, Van Marwijk has Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, and youngsters Eljero Elia and Ibrahim Afellay to choose from. Keep an eye out especially for Wesley Sneijder, Inter Milan's creative spirit, and Robin Van Persie, who looks to have recovered nicely from a major ankle injury (see video above).

But beyond attack, this Holland team also boasts two strong ball winners in Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. It's that kind of grit that will make the famous Dutch total football succeed against teams looking to defend, defend, and counterattack. Keeper Maarten Stekelenburg is probably the team's biggest weakness, but the Oranje should have no problem scoring enough goals to overcome any blunders and go through.

Denmark is one of those under-the-radar teams that you never want to play in a major tournament. Surprise winners of Euro 1992, Denmark have actually held on to a single coach, Morten Olsen, for 10 whole years! His tenure has brought with it the kind of framework that succeeds in international play: Because national teams only have a few weeks to train together before major tournaments, they tend to play better when they know beforehand what system they'll play in, and what the coach expects.

It certainly worked in qualifying, where Denmark topped both Portugal and Sweden. Olsen plays with three attackers led by Nicklas Bendnter, who despite inconsistency at Arsenal seems to save his best for the national team, and longtime captain Jon Dahl Tomasson. It'll be interesting to see how Denmark matches up with Holland and Cameroon, who also play with three strikers. Those games might be decided in midfield and defense, where Denmark has some experience in Christian Poulson (Juventus' holding midfielder), Daniel Agger (Liverpool's center back) and Thomas Sorenson (Stoke City's keeper).

Not the quickest of teams, Denmark will have to be cautious against counterattacks, where a team like Holland could absolutely rip them apart.

Like Denmark and the Netherlands, Cameroon will play a 4-3-3, spearheaded by Samuel Eto'o. Ah yes, Eto'o. Treble winner for both Barcelona and Inter Milan. Major goof. In May, he threatened to quit the team because The Indomitable Lions legend Roger Milla said Eto'o "Still hasn't brought anything to our national team." Then last week he spent $1.3 million on personalized watches for everyone. Dude thinks he's Oprah.

Truth is, Eto'o has had some good but not great seasons the past few years. It'll be interesting to see whether his current form is enough to carry Cameroon as he's expected to. Some think that he finally has a capable strike partner in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, whom coach Paul Le Guen thinks will be a revelation this summer. Jean Makoum, Geremi, and Cousins Rigobert and Alex Song will help complete the spine of the team. Alex Song, especially, is coming off his best year in the Premier League and will look to make this his international breakout tournament.

Cameroon, like all the African sides, is expected to play well because this is Africa's first World Cup. That continental home field advantage theory might prove true or, because you know, Africa's kind of big and it's not like Cameroon (or for that matter Nigeria, Algeria, Ivory Coast, or Ghana) and South Africa are so close, might turn out to be a load of crap.

Japan's coach Takeshi Okada insists his team are semi-final contenders. Laughable? Probably. Japan boasts some experience and some creativity, but not enough of either to compare with the others in the group.

Despite being the first team to qualify for the Cup, the traditional problems of being undersized and physically inferior will probably come into play again. Indeed, Okada is said to have met with Arsene Wenger, a good friend of both Okada and Cameroon coach Le Guen, and learned that Cameroon is planning to play more aerial game against the diminutive Samurai Blue. The question is whether it even matters that he knows their plan -- what can he do to stop it?

For Japan to go through, they'll need outstanding performances by their creative players -- especially Shunsuke Nakamura (the player, not the asteroid), Yasuhito Endo, Takayuki Morimoto, and Keisuke Honda -- and hope to get enough goals to make up for their defensive deficiency.

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