What: Denmark vs. Japan
When: Thursday, June 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
The Danes enter their final match filled with confidence, after showing well against the Netherlands and coming from behind to beat Cameroon. Plus, they have never not advanced in their three previous World Cup appearances. But Japan, who also beat Cameroon and turned in a good performance against Holland, should be equally buoyant.
The winner of this game will advance to the knockout stage. A draw sees Japan go through on goal difference.
Nicklas Bendtner, who is still struggling with a groin injury, was a beast in the Danes’ win over the Indomitable Lions, and he will have to be one again against the Japanese. He is ably helped by Dennis Rommedahl, who has turned back the clock and looks to be in terrific form.
But for coach Morten Olsen, it is the defense he is worried about. In their win over Cameroon, Olsen called his side’s errors “unworthy of a World Cup.” The backline, led Liverpool’s Daniel Agger, will be tested against the quick and relentless Japanese attackers, especially in the absence of suspended Palermo center back Simon Kjaer.
The Japanese have proven nearly impossible to break down defensively. Defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka is the rock in the middle, who has proven capable of stopping the best in the world, such as Samuel Eto’o and Robin van Persie. Now he must deal with Bendtner & Co.
The attacking responsibility falls to CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, who scored the goal in their 1-0 win over Cameroon in their opener. More than the goal, though, he is a dynamic, determined attacker who always looks forward.
The bigger, stronger Danes should be able to overpower the Blue Samurai, using high balls into the area and set pieces. Should. The Japanese, who have never advanced in a World Cup not played in Japan, could spring a surprise, using their stamina and discipline to shut down the Danes’ offence and counterattack like crazy.
What: Cameroon vs. Netherlands
When: Thursday, June 24, 2:30 pm ET
Where: Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
Woe, the Indomitable Lions. Not so indomitable this time around. The first team eliminated from the tournament, Cameroon have nothing to play for but pride after two losses. And beating the Netherlands, who are looking to take top in the group, will be a nearly impossible task. The Oranje are in juggernaut mode and don’t seem likely to stop rolling anytime soon.
Coach Paul Le Guen has done his best to maintain a professional attitude in the side, despite their bitter failure. “It’s not a friendly game, it’s a World Cup game and we have to respect the Cameroonian people and the competition itself,” he said this week.
But it’s going to be tough for a team that so clearly underperformed. Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o is the key man, but the real problems have been in the back, where there has been a lack of discipline and cohesion. Expect more than a few changes to Le Guen’s starting XI.
With the chance to top the group and set up a match with lowly Slovakia (runners up in Group F), the Dutch will look to get full points from this match. But it is also a good opportunity to rest a few regulars and give recovering star Arjen Robben a run.
The Bayern winger has not appeared yet for Bert van Marwijk’s side. Not that they’ve needed him. Weapons like Inter’s Wesley Sneijder, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and newcomer Eljero Elia provide plenty of firepower.
One early goal against the demoralized Cameroonians, and the Dutch rout could be on. The only effective factor will be what changes Van Marwijk makes. Does he rest Sneijder? Does he test Robben? Either way, Holland should leave the stadium with three points.