This group has all the makings of excitement and breathless action. For starters you've got the Dutch and all their glory. Flying up and down the field is almost tiring to watch, yet it can put you to sleep with its smooth, effortless progression from the back line to the front. Japan are looking to erase the pathetic display of what they call soccer from everyone's memory in 2006. Not much of a threat though for this group. Cameroon and Denmark on the other hand will bring plenty of grit and beautiful blonde hair.
Cameroon travel south as Africa's leader is World Cup matches played with 17. Getting there was not an easy task though. Facing a swift exit from qualification, they axed their coach and brought in ex-Lyon chief Paul Le Guen - resulting in 4 successive wins to seal their place. I am always of the opinion that a national coach MUST speak the native tongue. You can't do your job effectively through an interpreter. Le Guen not only brought years of success on the club level, but quite simply, he brought French. And I have no doubt the players united and rallied around him as a result. This team is flat out stacked. Savvy holding midfield Alexander Song will pair up with a personal favorite of mine in Jean Makoun and another hard-nosed bloke in Achille Emana. They also boast one of the best goalkeepers in Carlos Kameni who has made his home with the "other" team in Barcelona for the past 6 years. And up front - Pierre Webo and of course Sammy Eto'o. 222 goals for club and country in his 13 year career. Speed, guile, awareness, and the most lethal of finishes. He'll sneak behind a back 4 before they even know to look for him.
He will do well to score for Cameroon because the Danes will be fighting for that second spot just as hard. Denmark was always a fan favorite with the Laudrup brothers and Peter Schmeichel in the late 80s and 90s. They played beautiful football as the game should be played. Perhaps now that flair has returned. Denmark topped one of the hardest qualifying groups in Europe overtaking Portugal, Sweden, and Hungary. In fact, they only lost once the entire time (and it was after they had sealed a World Cup ticket). What's their secret? Well, more than half of the 23 man roster has a last name ending in "n". They have a very successful formula of 33 year old veteran Jon Dahl Tomasson partnered up top with 22 year old Nicklas Bendtner. A disciplined midfield and an EPL battle tested keeper mean Denmark will have the last say in who moves on.
Japan as a footballing nation, true to their nickname, are "on the rise." They have won the past 3 of 5 AFC Asian Cups. They've qualified in every World Cup since 1998 and only launched their own domestic league back in 1991. With only 4 of the 23 players based in Europe and the rest playing domestically, the Japanese lack players who have played consistently against the very best. And it showed in 2006 losing their three group games by an aggregate score of 1-7 and finishing dead last in the group. Better luck this time around? At least a few more goals hopefully.
Then there's the Dutch. O how I love this team. I love their fans decked out in orange. I love watching them bounce up and down in the stands in utter jubilation. I love their smiling, their singing, and ESPECIALLY their women. This team can destroy you from anywhere on the field. They only outscored their opponents in qualifying 17-2 in 8 games... Their only weakness lies at the back with an aging cast of heroes making what will be their last World Cup appearances. Van Bronckhorst, Ooijer, and Mathijsen are 35, 35, and 30 respectively. It could be their undoing down the road but at the moment let's focus on the beauty. Midfield: Van Bommel, Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben, De Jong. Forwards: Van Persie, Kuyt, Huntelaar. These may only be names to you without faces. If you know them, then you are wiping the drool that has undoubtedly stained your keyboard. If you don't, then you will. The pace and movement of this team, and they are maybe the best team you'll see work together outside of Spain, is jaw dropping. Incisive passing from Sneijder and Van Bommel will catapult runs from every angle and position on the field. Or try dealing with Robben cutting in from the right to release howitzer after howitzer on net. L'oranje will bring the heat. Lets just hope it doesn't diminish after the group stages.
HOW IT WILL PAN OUT: Well I think the winner is pretty obvious. As for second, I'm taking Cameroon. Not least for my love of watching Eto'o play, but this is an underachieving team that has found new light with a new coach. Playing on African soil will help them overcome any obstacles that may have existed elsewhere.
GAME OF THE GROUP: Denmark vs Cameroon on June 19th. It will be the 2nd game for both teams and will go a long way towards deciding who will finish behind the Dutch.