There’s no doubt that the Netherlands are the team to beat in Group E, but with three other talented, experienced sides, top spot shouldn’t come nearly as easily as their place in World Cup 2010 did.
Along with a tournament favorite in the talent-laden Dutch squad, the other three teams in Group E are capable of making it to the round of 16.
Perhaps this is the year that Cameroon finally return to the knockout round after exiting early all three times they’ve been in the World Cup since their quarterfinal run in Italy in 1990. Japan should be taken seriously as well, especially with a rising star like Keisuke Honda (whose talents many of the Dutch contingent can vouch for) in their ranks.
But the most serious threat to the Netherlands could be Denmark. While the Netherlands’ qualifying campaign might have been an impressive one statistically, Denmark’s qualifying campaign is one that should make many take notice based on the quality of opposition they bested to nail down a place in South Africa.
Road to Qualification: Second Round: 1st in Group 1 (5W-1D-0L), Third Round: 1st in Group A (4W-1D-1L – automatic qualifier)
After missing out in 2006 saw Cameroon’s run of four straight World Cup appearances end, the Indomitable Lions made sure there was no heartbreak this time around by rolling through qualifying.
In the second round, the only negative result was a 0-0 draw in Tanzania, as they won their other five group matches. In the third round, Cameroon were grouped with three solid sides in Gabon, Morocco, and Togo, and they stumbled out of the gate, losing 1-0 in Togo and mustering only a goalless home draw with Morocco.
But the light came on, and Cameroon won their final four matches en route to winning the group by four points. Qualification wasn’t assured until the final match though, as Gabon could’ve leapfrogged them had they won in Togo and Cameroon lost or drew in Morocco. However, Gabon went down 1-0 in Togo, meaning Cameroon’s 2-0 win in Morocco was just an added bonus.
Road to Qualification: 1st in UEFA Group 1 (6W-3D-1L – automatic qualifier)
Denmark certainly earned their place in South Africa, as they emerged top of one of the toughest groups in the European zone. Morten Olsen’s squad was grouped with two proven sides in Portugal and Sweden, and an improving Hungary side also proved to be dangerous.
The biggest result for Denmark came in their second match, in Portugal in September 2008. Down 2-1 in the waning moments, the Danes shocked Portugal with goals from Christian Poulsen and Daniel Jensen for an amazing 3-2 win. Denmark would win their next four matches, including a 1-0 win in Sweden, to take control of the group.
Thanks to their run and Portugal and Sweden’s struggles for consistency, even consecutive 1-1 draws against Portugal and Albania weren’t about to dent Denmark’s hopes. The Danes would seal their World Cup place with one match to go, as Jakob Poulsen’s late goal netted them a 1-0 home win over Sweden and an unassailable five-point lead with a match left. An unbeaten mark would’ve been an even nicer feather in their cap, but they fell 1-0 to Hungary in Copenhagen in their final match.
Road to Qualification: First Round: bye, Second Round: bye, Third Round: 1st in Group 2 (4W-1D-1L), Fourth Round: 2nd in Group A (4W-3D-1L – automatic qualifier)
After receiving byes through the first two rounds due to their position as one of the top five teams in Asia, Japan breezed through the third round, in which they were grouped with Bahrain, Oman, and Thailand. The only thing that was ever in doubt was their place atop the group, but in the final group match, in Saitama, Atsuto Uchida netted a last-minute goal to beat Bahrain 1-0 and send Japan two points clear of Bahrain at the top.
In the final round, Japan were grouped with Bahrain once again, and they were also paired with Australia, Qatar, and Uzbekistan. Automatic qualification was a cinch, and it was clinched with two matches left, thanks to a 1-0 win in Uzbekistan. Japan did have a chance to top the group, as they were level on points with Australia with two matches left, but a 1-1 home draw with Qatar and a 2-1 loss in Australia saw them finish five points back of Australia in second.
Road to Qualification: 1st in UEFA Group 9 (8W-0D-0L – automatic qualifier)
The Netherlands hardly had to break a sweat in World Cup qualifying, as they were placed in a ridiculously easy group featuring Iceland, Norway, Macedonia, and Scotland.
Rare as the occurrence is, it’s not at all a surprise that the Dutch were perfect in qualifying, and as such, they won the group by a landslide. There were close shaves in away matches against Macedonia, Norway, and Scotland, in which second half goals needed to be scored in order to preserve the perfect record. But at the end, the Netherlands were 14 points ahead of Norway and Scotland, who both finished on ten points.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.