World Cup Handicapping: Group E Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/11/2010
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There is absolutely nothing easy in the World Cup, but the draw that the Netherlands was given is as close as it gets. Their competitors - Cameroon, Denmark, and Japan - aren't disastrously bad by any means, and Cameroon is potentially pretty good, but a team as good as the Dutch are should be able to get through to the round of 16 without really breaking a sweat.
Barring an uncharacteristically bad performance from the Oranje, then, the battle here is going to be for second, and that will be a heated one. Cameroon is perhaps the second best African team, and Denmark is feisty. Japan is probably just happy to be in the field, but they have the momentum of hosting in 2002 to build on, and that often has a significant future impact on the strength of teams. Here's a preview and some World Cup predictions for Group E (all odds are from Bodog):
The Dutch, the 8/13 favorite to win the group and the 12/1 sixth choice to win the tournament, were as strong in qualification as a team can possibly be - they won all eight of their games, and outscored their opponents 17-2. They were the third-ranked team in the country at the end of last year, and their loyal and numerous fans have high expectations.
To meet those expectations the Dutch are going to have to get over their recent bad habit of letting their game fall off when the games really matter. In 2006 they qualified for the second round easily, but then put forth an underwhelming effort in the round of 16 and fell to Portugal. At Euro 2008 they were frighteningly good in the round robin portion of the tournament, but then were upset 3-1 by Russia in the quarterfinals.
For a country that takes soccer as seriously as they do in Holland these results are absolutely disastrous, and totally unacceptable. They are out to reverse their fortunes, and their players are playing with a unity and spirit of cooperation that they haven't always enjoyed, so anything is possible.
If they don't win this group then it's time to really look at this program and what they can do to overhaul and fix what is obviously wrong. One interesting factor to watch leading up to the World Cup is whether or not legendary striker Ruud van Nistelrooy will be on the squad for the tournament. Though he'll turn 34 during the tournament, he's still a dangerous striker, and a recent move to the Bundesliga has given him a new spark. If he's healthy, van Nistelrooy would be a help on the field. He's not always a great teammate, though, and he has retired from international play more times than Elizabeth Taylor got married.
Cameroon, at 17/4 to win the group, is Africa's highest-ranked team, though most would argue that they aren't better than Ivory Coast. This is the sixth time that they have been in the World Cup, but they are definitely best remembered for their stunning run to the quarterfinals in 1990 when they upset Argentina in the round robin and won their group. That's the only time they have made it out of the first round.
They won the Olympic gold medal in 2000, though, so they have had some international success. The fate of this team rests on one player to a more significant extent than most countries. Striker and captain Samuel Eto'o is one of the purest scorers in the whole field - he had nine goals in 11 qualifications games, and scored 100 goals in five seasons with FC Barcelona. If he's at his best then this team can do some damage. If he falters, though, then it could be another early exit.
One thing strongly in their favor is their coaching change. The team looked terrible through their first two qualification games, but Otto Pfister was replaced by Paul Le Guen, and the improvement was instant and incredible.
Oddsmakers see little difference between Cameroon and Denmark - the Danes are just behind the Africans at 9/2 to win the group. They will be looking to make people to forget years of embarrassment. After consecutive Top 10 finishes in the World Cup, Denmark failed to make the field both in 2006 and at Euro 2008. They are off to a good start for erasing those bad tastes - they won the qualifying group and upset the highly-ranked Portuguese in the process.
Typically, Denmark is a defensive and frankly dull team. Things have changed a bit on that front, though, since much of their talent and excitement now lies from their midfield forward. They have never failed to advance out of the first round, and they could certainly keep that streak alive, but I have to give Cameroon a bigger edge than the odds would indicate.
This is the kind of statement that can come back to haunt you, but I am fearless - Japan is absolutely not moving on to the second round. They have qualified for four straight World Cups, but outside of a surprising trip to the quarterfinals on home soil in 2002 they have been dismal - 28th and 31st places. They have some nice pieces, like teenage prodigy Naoki Yamada, but they just don't have enough depth, or enough players playing regularly outside of Japan, to be a serious factor here. They have definitely earned their 12/1 price to win the group.
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