Unlike Group C, there is no clear underdog in this group, just one supreme overdog. Netherlands qualified perfectly, and will no doubt make it through.
Van Persie (if fit) lines up at the head of an attack including Champions League finalists Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, which will rip through three mediocre opposition defences. The weakness for Holland is their defence, and I think it will hold them back majorly at a later stage. But, for now, they will cruise this group, with perhaps one slip up along the way.
The really interesting thing here is the other three teams. Denmark, Cameroon and Japan fans would all argue their team is the favorite to finish in second, and there is a case for all of them.
Denmark are a notoriously thin skinned team, and can advance through sheer persistence. They don’t play the most beautiful football, but they have a set of well organised players who come from top European leagues. The star man is Arsenal’s Niklas Bendtner, who will especially cause trouble for Japan.
Japan has a team consisted almost entirely from J-League players, and I have a lot of respect for this. Some of the J-League action is great stuff. They certainly have some class in the team, but the problem is that they are less than physically gifted. The aerial presence of Bendtner will be a problem, and that doesn’t even start on what Cameroon will bring against them.
Cameroon will truly fancy their chance this World Cup. They are the top ranked African team, and bring a lot to the table as an effective unit. Many pundits are saying that an African team will go far, and I think it is most likely to be these or the Ivory Coast. The star man is Samuel Eto’o of Barcelona and Inter Milan fame, and he will be the best player in this group (Arjen Robben a close second). The rest of the team will also bring an overwhelming physicality that could even trouble Holland.
Those three teams all have cases for second place, and I imagine the race will be fascinating, not least because each of the three comes from a different continent. It could almost be seen as a clash of style, with Japan bringing the skillful Asian approach, Denmark the cultured European and Cameroon the dominate African.
My decision for the group table is:
Netherlands overwhelm the more conventional defences of Japan and Denmark, but meet with tough competition from Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions take the second place because of their superior class and the ‘African Factor’ (and because they have an awesome nickname). Denmark use their experience of these situations to muscle a point off Cameroon, and are equally matched on the opening day with Japan.
The first day will be the key one, when on June 14th Cameroon beat Japan, and get the three points that keep them clear of Denmark (Netherlands v. Denmark will be Soccercity’s second game). By the last day it’ll be all but over, and two boring draws between Denmark/Japan and Cameroon/Netherlands will be played out.
The winner (Netherlands) will play the runner up of Group F (most likely Paraguay) and the runner up (Cameroon) will play the winner of F (presumably Italy).