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Tactics Board

World Cup 2010, Group E

June 1, 2010
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Group E: Netherlands | Denmark | Japan | Cameroon

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group F | Group G | Group H

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk
Preferred formation: 4-5-1
Key man: Arjen Robben
Wildcard: Eljero Elia
Weak spot: Tendency to flop on the big stage

The biggest story to emerge from the Dutch World Cup squad announcement was the omission of veteran striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, as coach Bert Van Marwijk feels he is covered in that position without needing to recall a member of the Dutch old guard who have flattered to deceive in previous World Cup disappointments.

Arjen Robben won the Double with Bayern Munich
GettyImagesArjen Robben won the Double with Bayern Munich
It may be that the timely return to fitness for lead striker Robin van Persie was the primary reason why Van Nistelrooy was overlooked. The gifted Arsenal forward was injured playing in a friendly for Holland in November, much to the chagrin of boss Arsene Wenger, and only returned to action at a moment when his club's title charge was running out of steam.

With Wenger still convinced that Van Persie could have transformed his side's season from another near miss into something far more delectable, the French manager will not appreciate the irony that his national team will not be the chief beneficiaries of the six months of rehab paid for and supervised by Arsenal.

There can be no doubting Van Persie's importance to this Dutch side. Their 4-5-1 formation requires an intelligent and potent marksman leading the line and their 26-year-old Gunner fits the bill perfectly. So long as 'RVP' does his job up front, the other attacking aspects of this Dutch side tend to click into place.

Dutch winger Arjen Robben is heading to South Africa in stunning form. The hero of Bayern Munich's Champions League charge, his goals and creativity will be central to Holland's hopes this summer. Those same attributes can be attached to midfield creator in chief Wesley Sneijder, who has also been a star of this season's Champions League with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan and provides the imagination to ignite the likes of Robben and Van Persie.

One to watch in the Dutch ranks this summer is young Eljero Elia, whose pace and class on the left flank provide great balance to the threat Robben poses on the opposite wing. The experienced and battled-hardened duo of Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel provide the stable midfield base for Holland's attacking quartet to weave their magic.

The chief concern for Oranje this summer may be at the back, where keeper Maarten Stekelenburg is not as reliable as retired former Dutch hero Edwin van der Sar. Hamburg's Joris Mathijsen has his critics in the central defensive berth and while you have to admire Feyenoord's Giovanni van Bronckhorst's staying power at the age of 35, his last hurrah on the international stage will be a major test of his enduring qualities.

Coach: Morten Olsen
Preferred formation: 4-3-3/4-2-3-1
Key man: Christian Poulsen
Wildcard: Nicklas Bendtner
Weak spot: Goals may be in short supply

Morten Olsen has done a fine job of transforming the Danish national team from no-hopers to World Cup finalists in double quick time and now the expectation is that he can navigate his way towards a successful summer in South Africa.

Christian Poulsen made 19 Serie A starts this season
GettyImagesChristian Poulsen made 19 Serie A starts this season

Basing his qualification success on solid team organisation and a defensive line that conceded just five goals in ten successful qualifiers, the three men who took most of the credit for that triumph were 'keeper Thomas Sorensen and defensive kingpins Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer.

Stoke stopper Sorensen has been one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League this season, so the sight of Denmark's No. 1 being carried off with a serious elbow injury at Chelsea in April sent shivers down the spine of coach Olsen and his coaching team.

News that Sorensen is set to be fit in time for the trip to South Africa will warm plenty of Danish hearts and the presence of Liverpool's Agger and highly-rated Palermo defender Kjaer will make Olsen's men dogged opponents to get through. The latter of the trio, in particular, is on the up and up and there are rumours that big-money offers will come in for him this summer.

Christian Poulsen has long been the chief string-puller in the Danish midfield and that task will remain with him in South Africa. A ball-winner and fine distributor in equal measure, his position as director of operations will often see him take up a deep position as he looks to start attacking moves.

With Denmark employing a counter-attacking style, Poulsen is generally the starting point of their breaks, with veteran wingers Dennis Rommedahl (Ajax) and Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord) featuring on either flank. Look out for the input of Werder Bremen's Daniel Jensen in the midfield, with his creativity a valuable asset for the Danes.

It may be that they need goals from all over their side as while over-confident Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner will doubtless believe he is destined to become the shining star of this World Cup, the reality is he is more likely to feature on those end of tournament compilations where shocking misses are highlighted. On occasion, Bendtner can look deadly, but he is more famous for fluffing his lines in front of goal.

Coach: Takeshi Okada
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1
Key man: Shunsuke Nakamura
Wildcard: Yasuhito Endo
Weak spot: Fragility against more powerful opponents

The leap demanded of Japan when they step up a few levels and try to take on the World Cup elite is more than a little tricky to negotiate and thus will be the scenario again this summer.

Shunsuke Nakamura is an icon in Japan
GettyImagesShunsuke Nakamura is an icon in Japan

Finishing ahead of Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan was enough to secure their spot in South Africa, but coach Takeshi Okada has been attempting to devise a strategy that will give his side the best chance of success this summer and a change in formation is on the cards.

With the bulk of his best talent being crammed into the midfield third of the team, the switch from a 4-4-2 line-up to 4-2-3-1 is designed to give him stability in the heart of the action, while also serving to get the best out of the talent at his disposal. Counter-attack is likely to be Japan's best method of getting at their opponents this summer and coach Okada accepts this reality.

Former Celtic hero Shunsuke Nakamura may be their best hope of making an impact at this World Cup, with his delightful left foot having the potential to carve open opponents both in free play and from set-pieces. It would not be a bad tactic for Japan to try and win a few free-kicks around the opposition penalty box as Nakamura is capable of dispatching them from all angles.

Yasuhito Endo offers intriguing options for Japan. A classy operator on the ball, the accusation that he is something of a luxury player when facing up to stronger opposition has been thrown in his direction, so the theory goes that he may be used as a super-sub if his side are chasing a game late on. It would be a shame if they could not find a starting spot for this Gamba Osaka star.

There have been plenty of concerns expressed about the Japan defensive wall, with centre-backs Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka having plenty to prove as they head off for World Cup duty. Goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki is the established first pick, but it's easy to look half decent when you are playing against weak opponents more often than not. Will Japan's back line really stand up when the pressure is applied?

The trouble may be that when powerful European opponents with experience and knowledge of how to play the rough and tumble game get their teeth into Japan, the Far East flame may be snuffed out. It's up to Takeshi Okada's men to prove they are no pushovers this time.

Coach: Paul Le Guen
Preferred formation: 4-4-2/4-5-1
Key man: Samuel Eto'o
Wildcard: Alex Song
Weak spot: Poor form a worry

Living on your legacy is not a policy Cameroon can follow in South Africa as 20 years on from their nation's finest World Cup moments at Italia '90, the Indomitable Lions are heading into this tournament with limited expectation.

Samuel Eto'o has won back-to-back Trebles
GettyImagesSamuel Eto'o has won back-to-back Trebles

So long as national team stalwart Samuel Eto'o is around, all Cameroonians will have belief that the impossible can happen and one of Africa's all-time great players will relish his moment on the big stage once again. The trouble must be that Eto'o is not quite at the peak of his powers anymore and this is not a team overloaded with proven performers.

Arsenal's Alex Song is heading to the World Cup on the back of a decent season in the Premier League and his growing maturity will serve coach Le Guen well. Charged with marshalling the midfield, Song has the mental and physical strength to carry the burden, but midfield partner Eyong Enoh lacks some creativity alongside him.

A useful attacking option on the flank will be Achille Emana, who has the potential to score the odd crucial goal and has been in decent form despite the fact he has been playing second division football in Spain with Real Betis this season. A summer move looks likely for him once his World Cup duties are done.

The Tottenham duo of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong offer experience and quality at the back, but those around them could not be included on a list of proven stock. Monaco youngster Nicolas Nkoulou is an exciting talent who has yet to confirm his quality on the biggest of stages at the age of 20, while makeshift right-back Stephane Mbia has been converted from his midfield role.

The inclusion of veteran performers Geremi and Rigobert Song in the original 30-man World Cup squad named by Le Guen was evidence of the lack of strength in depth. The experienced duo looked as if their best days were well behind them as they turned in poor showings in the African Nations Cup earlier this year, but their replacements have failed to stand up and confirm they are ready to fill their shoes.

In truth, if you pluck Eto'o, Alex Song, Assou-Ekotto and Bassong out of this line-up, Cameroon's chances of success this summer would be zero, so Le Guen has to hope his handful of quality performers rise to the challenge when it matters most. It is a policy that does little to inspire too much confidence.