World Cup Preview, Pt. 2 - Groups E and F

Click here for World Cup Preview, Pt. 1 - Groups G and H

So, we're a few days away from the World Cup kicking off in South Africa.  I acknowledge that there's no way to wax poetic about the popularity of soccer on a site read by (primarily) Americans without sounding condescending to some.  I'll just point out that 5.6 billion people tuned into matches across 54 global markets, and an average of 93 million people watched each match.  It's kind of a big deal.

This will be a series of previews for each group (two at a time) with a more detailed analysis on the teams that are expected to contend.  The problem with the World Cup is that formations and squad selections for some teams are shrouded in secrecy, so I may end up being quite off by the time June 11th rolls around.

We continue with Groups E and F:  Two groups that might be trickier for the favorites than you might think.

 

Note:  For all who aren't familiar with soccer in Africa, those horrifically annoying horns are called Vuvuzelas.  They're a local tradition at soccer games and I'm pretty sure they'll be linked to 50% of the murders committed worldwide between June 11th and July 11th.

Group E

Netherlands (FIFA Ranking: 4)

Cameroon (FIFA Ranking: 19)

Denmark (FIFA Ranking: 36)

Japan (FIFA Ranking: 45)

 

Netherlands

Predicted starting lineup:

-----------------------Stekelenburg-----------------

Van Der Wiel---Heitinga----Matheijsen-----V. Bronckhorst

---------------De Jong------Van Bommel----------

--------------------------Sneijder----------------------

------------Kuyt------------------------Van De Vaart (Robben)

-------------------------Van Persie---------------

Strengths:  As you would imagine, the Dutch are very strong going forward.  Before Robben's injury, there were rumors that the Dutch were going to play a front 4 of Van De Vaart, Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben.  However, even without Robben's injury, I subscribe to the belief that Kuyt brings organization and a willingness to track back that's vitally important for the Dutch.  They lose some pace inserting Van de Vaart for the injured Robben, but lose nothing in terms of creativity and add yet another capable dead-ball striker.  The front 4 (including Sneijder, who plays a more advanced role) is extremely fluid and you should expect to see positional rotations from time to time involving all 4 men.  Overall, the creative abilities of Sneijder and Van De Vaart, the development of Van Persie into a world-class striker, and the industrious nature of Kuyt is enough to make the Dutch one of the most dangerous teams in the competition.  The midfield duo of De Jong and Van Bommel isn't the biggest, but they're ball winners who'll protect the suspect back 4.

Weaknesses:  Same story as always...the defending.  Johnny Heitinga is a full back for Everton, and at 5'10", 150lbs, he's hardly the most imposing presence at centerback.  Van Der Wiel is tremendously promising but he's relatively inexperienced at the international level with only 8 international caps.  The other potential starter at RB, Khalid Boulahrouz, is more experienced but severely lacking in pace.  The midfield duo of De Jong and Van Bommel, while effective, are simple passers of the ball and can be harried into making mistakes.

Prediction: Group winners.

Cameroon

Predicted starting lineup:

---------------------Kameni-----------------

Geremi-----Bassong----N'koulou-----Assou-Ekotto

-----------------------Song-------------------

--------Mandjeck--------------Makoun-----

----------------------Emana------------------

----------------Eto'o----------Webo---------

Strengths:  Cameroon has fantastic strength up the middle of their formation.  Samuel Eto'o is still a force to be reckoned with, and Cameroon rely heavily on the 29 year old striker.  His club excellence hasn't always translated on the international level, but Cameroon's success depends on Eto's performance.  Alex Song has developed under Arsene Wenger's tutelage into one of the better holding midfielders in the Premier League.  Sebastien Bassong is only 23, but played in a good number of matches for Tottenham as Ledley King's backup.  Finally, Carlos Kameni is by far the best goalkeeper for any of the African nations.

Weaknesses:  Eto'o, Emana, Song, Makoun, Assou-Ekotto and Kameni should be in the starting XI.  The problem is, noone seems to know what Paul Le Guen plans on doing for the remaining 5 places.  Geremi will likely start at RB, but his complete lack of pace could force M'Bia into the team.  Cameroon has consistently struggled to surround Eto'o with capable attacking threats, and this year is no different.  Pierre Webo may have won the job as Eto's strike partner, but he's now tasked with being enough of a threat to force defenses not to focus so much on Eto'o.

Prediction:  Third in group.

Denmark

-------------------Sorensen-----------

Jacobsen-----Kjaer-----Agger----S. Poulsen

------------J Poulsen----C Poulsen-----

------------------Tomasson---------------

------Rommedahl------------Kahlenburg----

-------------------Bendtner-------------------

Strengths:  The Danes have a remarkably strong defense, with a player of the quality of Per Kroldrup being forced to the bench in favor of an Agger-Kjaer combination.  Simon Poulsen has good ability going forward (as he should, being a former winger) and Jacobsen is a steady defender but doesn't pose much threat on the flanks. Watch for Christian Eriksen.  He's 18 and won't start, but he's one of the most promising young players in Europe and could serve as a lightning rod off the bench.

Weaknesses:  The Danes have been mightily unlucky with injuries.  Sorensen dislocated his elbow towards the end of the club season (though he should start against the Netherlands), Bendtner has groin issues, Kjaer suffered a knee injury in a friendly against Senegal and was initially thought to be out of the tournament, and Jon Dahl Tomasson, the veteran captain, is also struggling with a groin problem.

Predicted finish: Second in group.

 

Group F

Italy (FIFA Ranking: 5)

Paraguay (FIFA Ranking: 31)

Slovakia (FIFA Ranking: 34)

New Zealand (FIFA Ranking: 78)

Italy

Predicted starting lineup:

---------------------Buffon-------------------

Criscito----Chiellini----Cannavaro----Zambrotta

---------------De Rossi---------------------

------------Marchisio-------Pirlo/Montolivo-----------

-------Iaquinta--------------Di Natale------

---------------Gilardino----------------------

Strengths:  The Italians have a wealth of experience and are the current holders of the cup.  De Rossi is coming off of a strong season for a resurgent Roma side, Di Natale had the best season of his career, netting 28 goals for Udinese last season.  They are, as always, remarkably organized and despite the age of Cannavaro and Zambrotta, resolute in defense.

Weaknesses:  Andrea Pirlo will be out of the first couple of games, which is a huge blow for a side that still relies on his distribution and ball retention abilities.  Gigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro had terrible seasons (by their standards) for Juventus and both go into the World Cup in poor form.  Italy's strikeforce, as a whole, is sorely lacking that talismanic figure like Totti or Baggio that the country almost always seems to have.  Gilardino and Iaquinta are capable strikers, but neither have proved themselves to be capable of shouldering the load for the duration of a tournament.

Predicted finish:  Group winners, although they will be challenged by Paraguay.  In fact, it would not shock me to see Paraguay win this group.

 

Next up:  Groups A and B.

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