FULL TIME! – Three desperately needed points but Cameroon out of the World Cup. The Dutch have an exhibition against Cameroon, Paul Le Guen will join Raymond Domenech’s new book club and Denmark have a decisive match against Japan to determine who faces the winner of Italy’s group.  (Wild guesses…)  That was hair-raising, nail-biting stuff. Denmark will still need a win from Japan – a draw will see them go through on goal difference thanks to Japan’s one-goal loss to the Dutch. This group has the tournament’s first casualty but plenty of action left.

Thanks to Sean, Mike, Peter and Lars Eriksen from the Guardian. I’m out to write their fan reporty thing.

90+2min. – Cameroon are really pressing and there’s flashes of real beauty in their desperation.The Danes are not pressing much and are showing real vulnerability, but the defending is stout and manful. Morten Olsen looks positively manic.

90min. – “Kjaer doesn’t care where he puts it!” shouts the announcer. I LOL nervously, like a police suspect hearing a detective joke about juvie during interrogation. Denmark freekick interrupts the Cameroon volley against the Danish goal. Passing practice now for Demark.

88min. – Kjaer out for Japan game! He looked to have wasted a cross into the Cameroon half and then brought down the counter-attacker. What a blow.

86min. – Tomasson off for yet another Poulsen, Jakob. Sorensen booked for timewasting. Commentators joking about a profusion of Poulsens. Denmark have retreated to their half – they need to score!

83min. – Poulsen down after a collision with the attacking I-don’t-even-know-who after Bendtner passes a beautiful ball to the Cameroon keeper. A Cameroon player blocks Aboubakar’s shot and the corner ping-pongs before Sorensen saves.

82min. – People are going on about Cameroon like they’re some beautiful underdog story rather than the top-tip to take 2nd place in this group. It’s you and me, Denmark. Let’s see this one home.

80min. – Useless Webo comes off for Abouakar after that brilliant save. Now a Cameroonian corner. They’re at the gates – but Idrissou sends another one over the net. Denmark need to get another, and not just for me – they can’t be safe with this scoreline, not as hard as Cameroon presses.

78min. – Cameroon are almost through but it’s saved!!! There’s nobody there!

75min. – Mbia in the book for bring down Kahlenberg roughly. It leads to, uh, something, and then Idrissou’s back down the Danish right. I thought they’d play much more centered.

73min. – Cameroon are taking off the booked Bassong for Idrissou, right after Bendtner overplays a pass. I can’t look. I must look.

70min. – Tomasson had a great through-ball, passed off from Rommedahl, but he sends it right off the keeper. That was his chance to make an honest man of me.

69min. – Why are they letting Eto’o receive all these passes? If they don’t get somebody in there he’s going to throw one of those passes straight in the net… but not yet.

66min. – Makoun misses a half-sitter, but he was marked and under pressure. The Danish defense have really come together but Cameroon are going to give this everything. Gronkjaer off for Kahlenberg – Olsen is going to push this all the way home.

64min. Cameroon still very dangerous, and Webo is doing little to help at the front. The attack must continue for Denmark – when they sit back, they’re dead.

62min. Dennis Rommedahl wanders through an aimless defense and bangs it right past the keeper. Wonderful. I would have his babies if he asked me.


59min. – Gronkjaer gets away with the ball but is too bloody clever by half and gets dispossessed. It heads back to the Danish side but the defending has been much better – though too needful.

56min. – The FIFA website is useless as it also thought Njitap/Geremi went off for Makoun. It was in fact Eyong. My apologies. Cheers to Sean for the catch.

55min. – Kjaer takes a knock on the head. He’s being walked off. Oh God.

53min. – Magnificent run by Simon Poulsen, but it’s knocked back for a corner, which comes to naught. This ball is getting worked harder than… you fill that one in.

50min. – The free kick goes into the wall but a follow-up by Kjaer is palmed lightly over. Officials miss the corner and award a goal kick. Bassong the booked Cameroonian.

49min. – A horrifying chance by Makoun is averted as he’s brought down by Jensen. It looked very borderline to me, but the ref gave nothing and no one appealed. On the clearance Bendtner was through but was taken down, earning a Cameroonian the first booking of the match. Ref has been quite anonymous, and pleasantly so.

47min. Jensen has come on for the relatively-anonymous Jorgensen. Njitap for Makoun. For once FIFA does me a solid. Geremi remains. A header is palmed over by Sorensen.

46min. Apparently Bendtner has not left the field but stayed running up and down the touchline throughout the interval. For Cameroon, Geremi is said to have come off, for N’Guemo? Not confirmed.

HALF-TIME. The general World Cup press pool know what really matters – the endless whining about the disallowed goal against Slovenia. Having apparently heard nothing about what happened to Ireland, the entire World Cup-watching sports commentariat are screeching for a replay, a reversal, a tarring and feathering, anything! Only Alexi Lallas remains, horrifyingly, a voice of reason.

The stars for Denmark are all attackers – Rommedahl has been a one-man guerrilla army and Bendtner has been on-point all game. Some contributions from Christian Poulsen but Tomasson still doesn’t look fit and the back four look like they were fed LSD shortly before the match. Fortunately Cameroon are with a few exceptions completely lost.

Sean writes, “This is fun. As much as we all admire good defending, there’s little better than World Cup match littered with schoolboy errors.” Fun for you – I need a damn Ambien after that.

45+1min. – Olsen will probably spend the entirety of the half watching the replay just to see how many chances they each really have. Cameroonian defense are looking a little better but still badly vulnerable.

44min. – “Who thought up these defensive strategies? Evel Kineval?” says the commentator. For once I agree completely. These were huge chances both teams just had, and I barely had time to process what the Hell happened before somebody else was through on net. Absolutely agonizing stuff.

42min. – Rommedahl is terrorizing the Cameroonian right, rushes forward and beats the universe on a long ball. Rommedahl turns in, gets a shot, saved, another from Tomasson, saved, and finally a long ball from Bendtner is turned off. Then Cameroon are there, and they’re through, and a save and then it goes off the post! And back! And forth! Four unbeatable opportunities in two minutes!

40min. – Suddenly Denmark have new life, though Cameroon have not dropped off the face of the Earth. They still know what’s at stake. Geremi tries to play in Webo but Sorensen grabs it without undue trouble.

38min. – If you came by twitter, I apologize for my momentary bad Danish spelling. I went phonetically and didn’t correct it quickly enough. But, we persevere. I think we usually say “real end-to-end stuff” at this point, so there we are…

33min.HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES??!!! – Kjaer plays a long ball to Rommedahl, past a clustering band of Cameroonians. Rommedahl sends it laterally to Bendtner, who is right there. Fantastic.

32min. – “What the fuck was that?” says IRL Dane Peter. I literally cannot tell what he means, Denmark are so poor.

30min. – Jacobsen confuses an Exocet missile with an ICBM and using the latter lifts the ball into near-Earth orbit. It’s just shocking, but at least Denmark have the ball.

27min. – “Apparently a friend-of-a-friend’s Mum looks like Danish striker Jon-Dahl Tomasson,” says Sean Carroll. And this is a man who yesterday was in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Who actually looks a bit like a bald, bespectacled Morten Olsen… but I suppose at their age almost everyone does.

26min. – All crossing in this World Cup is terrible, say the commentators. Crosses feature a ball. Therefore the ball is terrible. A philosophy degree from a B school gives me little logical purchase, but I think I sense a few holes here.

24min. Mike writes, “This is a very different Danish side that what I saw on Monday. Lacking discipline and confidence on the ball.” But – little-by-little – building up in the Cameroonian half. That goal was good fortune but little more and Cameroon look a bit unconvincing otherwise. But then, so do the Danes…

Webo plays with the ball on the touchline and is so adroit he’s flagged out of bounds.

20min. – Emana tries to get away with it a second time, but no dice say the defenders, who converge on him. Rommedahl leads an attack and it’s played to Tomasson, who beats the offside but can’t quite get to it.

17min. – Cameroon are swarming the ball as it goes from Dane to Dane. This is leaving a great deal of space open for long passes if Denmark can exploit. Gronkjaer has a shot, which is deflected to a pointless corner.

15min. – The commentators are now practically crowing about how wonderful it will be for an African team to make it out of the first round. I think it’d be wonderful if they weren’t so horrible – that goal was thanks to the Danish defense. Make no mistake.

Somehow that feels no better, though.

11min. – Also, lost in a cacophony of my dry heaving at 10”, Lars Eriksen notes that he is still – but still literally – writing the book on the ’86 Danish team. We’ll call that my glitch for the day. Emana blasts one at the goal. It’s wide, just.

10min.HELL. Samuel Eto’o benefits from a Christian Poulsen defending horror – how many of those are worth his quality? – and bangs it in from no range. This could be a horror.

7min. – “There’s a lot of Poulsens around in the Danish squad, you’ll have gathered.” Only as many as Songs in Cameroon. Rommedahl launches a powerful, probing shot from distance. Over. Not by so much.

3min. – Jorgensen already looks 138… or 12.

1min. – Cameroon already on the attack, but Kjaer is on hand for the deflection. Not wasting any time, then.

2:29pm Der er et yndigt land” is sweet and melodic. I do so like it. Though it’s a bit sleepy.

2:26pm – Duh-duh-duh-DUH CAM-ER-OON! I love an anthem with cymbals. Though it sounds a little bit like something played by an inept high school band who just got the music ten minutes ago.

2:22pm – Oh, by the way, the big people minute-by-minute’s here. I say keep them open side by side.

2:19pm – Alexi Lallas: “This is gonna be a game!” Top commentating. He makes me feel like Jonathan Wilson.

2:17pm – Though to be fair there have been worse ideas. Like Fabio Capello.

2:16pm – Network television (ABC) is showing this match in the United States, to the delight of the country’s vast Camero-Danish community.

IRL Dane Peter Stockmann sends this link to Ekstra Bladet which suggests treatment for Bendtner was attempted via a witch doctor. You heard me. Witchcraft.

Sorry it’s in Danish.

2:11pm – Fresh from a shower for the first time since mumble mumble. In that time we’ve got the team sheets, but before posting those Lars Eriksen, who literally wrote the book on the 80s Danish Dynamite, posted to alert me that there is a slightly shorter version to which I haphazardly referred. As it happens it jogged my memory as being excellent, and I’ll probably devote the next thirty minutes to a swift reread. He also links to his effort of this morning which shows the current lot in more skeptical relief. Cheers.

The teams:

DEN – Sorensen; Poulsen S., Agger, Kjaer, Jacobsen; Rommedahl, Poulsen C., Jorgensen, Gronkjaer; Tomasson, Bendtner. Coach M. Olsen (DEN).

CMR – Hamidou; Assou-Ekotto, N’Koulou, Bassong, Mbia; Emana, Song A., Enoh, Geremi; Eto’o, Webo. Coach P. Le Guin (FRA).

Key takeaways:

All the doubtful Danish starters are in. Tomasson especially will provide much needed firepower up front and Kjaer’s presence removes a big worry, as he is not only stout but useful pushing forward. No telling if all three will make it.

Big push forward for Cameroon. Alex Song is back in central midfield, with Webo and Eto’o moved up to forward positions. This should be much more dangerous.

Afternoon, gents and potentially ladies. Halfway through the second round two dozen teams are staring into the abyss. Included among them are England, laboring under two dire draws and trailing Slovenia; Spain, shocked by Switzerland; Germany, stunned by Serbia (with help from a soft red and Lukas Podolski, Serbia’s top defender); France, whose coach is even now putting Nicholas Anelka on a plane home; and most of the African contingent, including the hosts. There was loud concern that this World Cup would be boring, defensive and predictable. Not anymore.

Denmark and Cameroon are both among that number, though the Danes have reason to feel better about their position. An expected loss to a Dutch team favored to take nine points out of the group nevertheless displayed a relatively strong defensive performance and some attacking threat out of the dedicated forward players. More than most the Danes are susceptible to injury and more than most they’ve suffered from it; Bendtner, Tomasson and Kjaer are still iffy and now substitute Beckmann are added to their number. Still, having your backs to the wall and the worst behind you can be encouraging and liberating and I’m hopeful for all three to play.

Cameroon are meanwhile laboring under a fractious regime with unending reports of upset with coach Paul Le Guen, who is about as popular as a French manager should be, and the growing little black clouds hanging above Samuel Eto’o. Team selection has been particularly contentious thus far. However Eto’o will be satisfied with Le Guen’s decision to play him in the center after positioning him on the wing effectively removed him from the match against Japan, and others (Alex Song?) are likely to return to the pitch today. The whole team are well aware that a loss ends their contention for a place in the final sixteen. They will be a deadlier team than Japan found.

(Incidentally, earlier today someone asked me if it bothered me to cheer against an African team at Africa’s World Cup. Considering how bad they all are, not a whit – though I still hold out secret, unspeakable hope for the hosts.)

Tactics are likely to be similar and built around a key playmaker. Denmark will defend vigorously and where possible get the ball to Bendtner, ideally up the wings. Cameroon will try to get it forward to Eto’o through a string of central midfielders. Bendtner’s a rather better conductor if less individually talented than Eto’o, and Cameroon’s defense is less stalwart. Denmark are under real pressure to get goals early lest Bendtner give out. I think they’re up for it. I’ll say Denmark 3-1. (Jinx/knock on wood/fingers crossed?)

As last time Sean Carroll and Mike de Vries will have their tweets shamelessly stolen to provide inter-group reaction, as well as my friend Peter for the thoughts of an actual Dane. You can also have yourself reflected in this little dog and pony show via my slice of the Twatcracy as well as over e-mail at wahlberg(dot)peter(at)gmail.

Especially if you’re a Cameroon fan. I don’t have one of you yet and could use the counterpoint as I’m not exactly neutral.

A note from the world of the unseen: According to yesterday’s World Cup Daily, Rob Smyth of the Guardian has apparently written about how this Danish team is the finest since their 1986 side – and possibly better. I’ve been unable to find anything but a bunch of smaller write-ups on the ’86 squad but if and when it surfaces I’ll put it up (and let me know if find it). So far, I’m not sure – they seem to be uncomfortably perched in a transitional phase between old and young players and a strong defense balanced by a really menaching strikeforce. One jittery first game – amongst both teams – isn’t enough for me to judge.

Teams: To come.

He is the ref: J. Larrionda. The last Match he referred(? Why not) was Portugal-Ivory Coast in Group G, which had no score but three yellow cards. He’s been a ref at the top level for a long time but is controversial – at least in the USA. He’s certainly not shy about tossing around yellows and reds, so he may not tolerate a physical game. Denmark are a very physical team but their discipline is better than Cameroon’s, so we’ll see.


I mean you, Sepp Bladder, you awful manbearpig

Before getting to the World Cup draws themselves, I want to make clear that I will not christen a group of death.  FIFA has made groups of death obsolete.  Nothing like 1986 can happen again; stage management from continental leagues on up is such that no win will be terribly surprising, no loss so unexpected. It takes something away from the spirit of the game, but there you go. It’s not as if there’s no hope. Even 2006 managed a Group E.

Group A

One is tempted to be uncharitable and say that once again a biased and corrupt seeding system has worked to the benefit of Les Snooze. One is tempted to be right. Coach/offense to football Raymond Domenech bitched and moaned about his team being excluded from the top flight because of do-you-know-who-I-am? as if it could be thought fair for a qualifying group runner-up to be ranked in preference to the winner, Serbia. He can stuff it.

That said, even if they stumbled upon a path France remains to escape the woods. I learnt my lesson in the qualifiers when picking them, despite truly horrendous play, to come atop a Serbian team that not long ago would have been comically easy. A lot of better teams failed to get to Jo’burg and it slightly maddens me that the consensus is already to award the group to France.

I respectfully dissent. My money is on a good Mexico side, who don’t have to stretch have to beat France. They can tie or lose and still put away Uruguay and probably the unfortunate South Africans, who have Pienaar and some guys he met at a bus stop Friday afternoon.

France‘s native skill is enough to see them bumble through, so I’ll nod them for the second spot, despite more hot-headed predictions. No mistake I’d like to see them punished, but they’re lucky. For now.

The Greek national team

An interesting collection. Nothing really bad here, though Greece doesn’t inspire and Argentina’s ailing with a deficit of talent on the field matching that in coach Diego Maradona, who scraped them through the qualifiers with an anemic 8-4-6 record. We were speaking of losing teams being seeded higher – Argentina was South America’s lowest automatic qualifier and only then thanks to a late goal by Mario Bolatti. (Who?)

South Korea (which is a Republic, in case you didn’t know) weren’t able to replicate their success in 2002, crashing out narrowly in the group stage, but rallied to win the Asian Cup the year after and pipped Japan to win the East Asian cup. Doubtful competition, to be sure, but talent like Park Chu-Young makes them a threat. Nigeria overcame traditional African powerhouse Tunisia to get here but haven’t thrilled.

In Nigeria’s case I would ask whether Obafemi Martins or Victor Obinna can be their side’s Drogba or Eto’o. I’m doubtful.

Argentina to top the group only narrowly. South Korea to go to the sixteen with them.

Group C

I spoke of mistakes. I’ve made a few. One was predicting Slovenia to lose their second-place draw. I have seen the error of my ways and I’m attempting to atone.

As such, though you’ll think I’m crazy and you’ll be right, either England or the injury-plagued United States are going home with Algeria.  Slovenia have something, you see. Call it fortune. Call it God. Call it the fussballgeist. Whatever. Like Turkey in 2008 they should not by any means be winning, and have no right to be, but are. In Slumdog Millionaire they would say it’s because “it is written.” Whatever it is, it is.

Who are their players? How’s the back-four? What about possession? Don’t know, don’t care. Many very silly people are dumping on them – while tweeting during the Guardian’s minute-by-minute someone remarked that they weren’t better than anybody – and these people are right. Slovenia weren’t better than the Czechs; or the Poles; or the Northern Irish; or the Russians. And yet all are long gone.

Of the big two even if the US had the talent and depth to make a go of it the injuries sustained towards the irrelevant end of qualifying will probably mean we see a substandard side. And the US wasn’t that good to start with. A strong but not superlative England will qualify at the top and Slovenia will take the second position. America, thanks for playing.

Group D

Germany, to a lesser degree, also cannot catch a break. No one ever thinks they’re very good and I can never tell why. Their qualification record was flawless; they placed third in 2006 and second in 2008; and have talent like  Podolski, Ballack and Schweinsteiger at the front and little Philipp Lahm at back. They’ve had some internal issues, and some tragedies, under coach Joachim Low – my reply is “Yeah and?” Every team does. If they’ve suffered I just don’t see it. Go on all you want, but look at the matches. Their performance is, indeed, German: maybe not inspiring, but solid and stalwart and always where it needs to be.

They’re in a tough group, too; far worse than immediate collective Group of Death G. Australia and Ghana are arguably the best in their leagues (for Oz their move to Asia means that’s no longer a sneery boast) and feature marquee players at their head. Serbia is a reviving powerhouse who bested a group including France, Austria and nominally-superior Romania, and unlike other small countries they did so without resorting to a single star hopelessly trailed by the rest of the team. Not for nothing, too: this is the only group where all four teams appeared in 2006. All but Serbia cleared the groups, making it the most collectively successful, too.

I can’t see Germany failing to qualify, though it’s conceivable they might not top the group. Any of the other three could go forward with them. This year I’ll give Australia the edge over both thanks to a tougher qualification run than the others got.

There’s no group of death. But if there were… the fireworks would be here.

Group E

As a Danish fan I was not displeased: this was a better draw than one might expect. The Dutch cruised effortlessly through qualification even if they let a disappointing friendly draw with Paraguay reward their loss of Van Persie to injury. (A blessing in disguise? He’ll be well-rested in plenty of time to train for South Africa, and being out means he’ll be less exhausted from constant league and European matches until then.) Denmark had little more difficulty, losing only to Hungary in their last match in a group that included Portugal and Sweden.

As for Japan, though they apparently have a strong midfield they were badly drubbed in 2006, lost the Asian Cup the year after and lost every game in last year’s Olympics, which is not known for exhibitions of great footballing skill. They also have only one player on their squad who currently plays outside the J-League, which points to a deficit of international experience. Though cultural homogeneity can perhaps be a strength, their recent friendly records are decidedly mixed, with wins over Ghana and Scotland  balanced by a 3-0 failure against the Dutch.

Cameroon, meanwhile, crept through on the strength of Samuel Eto’o and his many watches. They offer a good record and have an unusually deep bench with lots of players in the top flight, and though they’ve little World Cup experience they took second at the 2008 African Cup of Nations and perenially feature well there. Too Africa is not the football backwater many once thought. These were real challenges they faced.

Won’t do them, though. The Dutch will clear, maybe with three straight wins, and on low points the resurgent Danes will follow. Japan will fall bottom. Cameroon will miss out narrowly, but have a young team and bright future.

Group F

My Slovenia rule somehow doesn’t extend to neighboring Slovakia. As a fourth-seed their qualification would have been the talk of UEFA if not for Slovenia’s success; but unlike their close neighbors they didn’t clear anybody really tough to get here and impressed less despite a superficially better line-up. The moral value of a scalp like Russia’s makes a big difference.

Same with New Zealand. It’s exciting for them just to be here. Presumably they’ll be allowed to stay and watch all the way to the end.

It is hard to imagine the Azzurri coming below Paraguay, who nevertheless offered a strong performance in tough marathon qualifying. And Italy had an easy-ish group. And really didn’t do that well. So maybe not impossible. And oddly satisfying.

In the interests of contrariness, then: Paraguay come top. A weakish Italy at their backs.

Group G



Oh my Ronaldito, there there...

To make up for all the ink yet to be spilled on this collection: Brazil qualifies. North Korea does not. Real race falls between Portugal and Ivory Coast for second. (I know it’s Cote d’Ivoire,  and I’m switching back and forth… but only so much can be expected of Americans.) Portugal had a badly flawed qualifying run in a difficult group while Cote d’Ivoire had a faultless one against pedestrian opposition.

Cote d’Ivoire, then, as Cristiano Ronaldo pre-emptively bursts into tears on which Simao subsequently slips and misses a penalty. Plus their flag is pretty.

Group H

Interesting one, this. Perpetually overrated Spain (it’s their year – really!) face Chile, Switzerland and North American dregs Honduras. The latter’s schizophrenic performance in the qualifiers and the old age of their recent call-ups suggest to me little threat. Probably ageist, especially given that a good many pros are already younger than me… but then none of these people play for Honduras. So then there were three.

Snide at Spain though I may they qualified perfectly, and indeed beautifully, refusing to give up any pointless games simply to protect themselves from injury like some European teams I can think of England. It would be almost an injustice were they not to go far in the World Cup. They’ll at least beat the group.

After Spain there’s a real dogfight for second-place. But Chile, who qualified second on tiebreaks with Paraguay, are a formidable team with a deep bench who handily took recent friendlies against Paraguay, Denmark and Slovakia while the Swiss are le sigh with the added stain of the hypocrisy of a deeply xenophobic country relying on a Turkish Muslim halfback and a Congolese striker for a high proportion of their offensive oomph.

So in the spirit of football my second place is Paraguay. Think of it as my contribution to ending racism. I’ll accept my Commentators’ Fair Bray award now, Sepp. You bastard.

Thoughts? Comment’s free.


This weekend the tiny (tiny?  I don’t really have much point of reference) African nation of Cameroon completed its World Cup qualifying run, thanks in large part to the efforts of world-class player Samuel Eto’o.  But the team-spirited Eto’o didn’t want his team to feel overshadowed.  So he bought them watches.

$50,000 watches.

From his own line of specialty watches.

I think the world here is – baller.