|Breaking down Group E|
|By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor|
|Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - |
The Netherlands are clearly the best team in their group, but Group E remains wide open with Cameroon, Denmark and Japan all seeking the second spot in the knockout stage.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk's side features Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, players who led their respective club teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, to the Champions League final this season.
The duo has made more than 100 combined appearances for the Netherlands, with Sneijder scoring 12 goals and Robben 11.
Van Marwijk has plenty of other options as well. with Rafael Van der Vaart (75 games, 15 goals), Dirk Kuyt (60 games, 14 goals), Robin van Persie (41 games, 14 goals) and Klaas Jan Huntelaar (30 games, 15 goals) all viable attacking options.
Although overlooked on such an attack-oriented side, the Dutch defense is also much improved with captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst anchoring the unit.
The Netherlands' only major title is the 1998 Euro crown, but the team may have the balance to win its first World Cup this summer.
Denmark and Cameroon return to the World Cup after failing to qualify in 2006, but both still have players with experience from the 2002 tournament.
Dahl Tomasson, Jesper Gronkjaer, Martin Jorgensen, Christian Poulsen, Dennis Rommedahl and Thomas Sorensen were key members of Denmark's last World Cup team in 2002, and enter the 2010 tournament with well over 500 combined international games played - and all over the age of 30.
Samuel Eto'o has played in the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 for Cameroon, yet is just 29 years of age as he enters the tournament in South Africa.
Japan did manage to advance to the World Cup four years ago, but failed to win a game. Japan won its group in 2002 when it co-hosted with South Korea, and if the team comes together again, the talent is there to advance again.
Game of the Group: Cameroon vs. Denmark (June 19)
Denmark opens against the Netherlands and, if it enters this match as expected without a point, will need a win against Cameroon to help its chances of going to the knockout stage.
Cameroon opens against Japan, the weakest team of the four, but ends the stage with a showdown against the Netherlands. Cameroon also can't expect to get any points from that match, leaving its clash with Denmark as the deciding game.
Denmark proved in qualifying it is a tough opponent for anybody, but playing a World Cup on the southern tip of Africa aids Cameroon's cause. Both teams will be happy with a sharing of the points in this match, but a win puts either side in control of their own destiny.
Player to Watch: Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
Eto'o was denied a chance to shine on the world's biggest stage four years ago because Cameroon failed to qualify. But he played in the previous two Cups and will captain his country in South Africa.
He recently threatened to leave the team after criticism from ex-Cameroon star Roger Milla, but was included on the final 23-man team and will be crucial for his country in the World Cup once again.
Eto'o was the youngest player to play in the 1998 World Cup, and has developed into one of the world's best strikers in the last 12 years. Eto'o has captured the Champions League three times, twice with Barcelona and with Inter Milan in May.
The striker scored in his first two Champions League final appearances and his knack for scoring big goals in big games will decide Cameroon's fate.
Breakout Player: Simon Kjaer (Denmark)
Kjaer established himself as a first-team regular for Italian side Palermo in 2009-10, and his play at center back didn't go unnoticed by Europe's elite. The 21-year-old is coveted by Bayern Munich and Manchester United, along with just about every other major European club.
The 6-foot-2 defender played 35 Serie A matches for Palermo, and will solidify his status as one of the hottest commodities in Europe with a good showing in South Africa.
Kjaer injured his knee in a recent friendly against Senegal, but coach Morten Olsen didn't hesitate including him on the final 23-man roster.
Kjaer will pair with Liverpool's Daniel Agger in central defense and with the exception of the Netherlands, Denmark's other group opponents will likely not be able to create many scoring chances against the duo.
Group Winner: Netherlands
The best team to never win the World Cup - the two-time runners-up lost to host West Germany in 1974 and host Argentina in 1978 - the Dutch never struggle at this stage. Clearly the class of the group, it would be a huge surprise if the Netherlands failed to advance.
Second Place: Denmark
Denmark is only ranked 36th in the world but it breezed through qualifying in a group including Portugal. The Danes' only loss was in a meaningless match at Hungary in the final match of qualifying. With a veteran team and strong back line, Denmark will do enough to advance.