Eto’o (pen) 65
Van Persie 36, Huntelaar 83
The Netherlands made it three wins out of three as they topped Group E with victory over Cameroon. Goals from Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were enough to beat the Indomitable Lions, for whom Samuel Eto’o scored a penalty. The Dutch now play Slovakia in the Round of 16.
Van Persie had a great chance to open the scoring after 19 minutes, chesting the ball past his marker on the edge of the box but shooting tamely with his right foot into the arms of Souleymanou Hamidou. Rafael Van der Vaart backheeled into the path of Wesley Sneijder but his shot from close range was blocked in the 24th minute before van der Vaart beat the wall from a freekick but Hamidou saved comfortably low to his right. Geremi put in a cross from the right on the half hour which Jean Makoun got up to ahead of Stekelenburg but headed over and two minutes later Dirk Kuyt fired just wide of the far post. Van Persie put the Netherlands ahead after 36 minutes, slotting through Hamidou’s legs from an angle. He had cut in to the box on the right hand side after exchanging passes with van der Vaart.
Van Persie ran at the Cameroon defence early in the second half but took his shot on from outside the box with his right foot and it was held comfortably by Hamidou. Sneijder fared no better with a long range freekick which again the keeper saved easily. Samuel Eto’o wriggled through four Dutch defenders on the hour but his effort was blocked before Landry Nguemo shot wide from 20 yards. Makoun had a great chance straight after, but he was unable to beat Stekelenburg from an angle after a great pass from Vincent Aboubakar. Cameroon were level on 65 minutes as Eto’o coolly finished from the spot after van der Vaart had handled on the end of the wall from Geremi’s freekick. Nguemo’s corner was headed wide at the near post by Stephane Mbia and it was the Netherlands who grabbed a winner through Huntelaar in the 83rd minute. Arjen Robben cut inside on his right fool and fired against the post from 25 yards and Huntelaar tucked the rebound into the open net from an angle.
There was a definite feel of a dead rubber game, with the Netherlands as good as Group E winners before kick off and Cameroon already out. The Dutch know they will have to take their game up a level in the later rounds having lacked any real thrust against the Indomitable Lions. Whilst it is understandable that they were not giving everything they had in the tank, there seemed little point in fielding a full strength side if they were not going to use the game as a proper dress rehearsal for the rest of the tournament. It is hard to know how much to read into van Persie’s inability to finish off a couple of good chances. Both fell for him on his weaker right foot but he has scored plenty of rockets in the Premier League with it. He did manage to take his goal on his right side but it was an effort from close range rather than a shot from the edge of the area, and he will need to be sharper with these opportunities in bigger games.
With Arjen Robben appearing for the last 20 minutes, he will surely be fit enough to feature more prominently against Slovakia. Why then did Bert van Marwijk feel the need to continue the failed van der Vaart experiment on the left rather than give a younger player a run out in this nothing game? If van der Vaart was brought to be back up to Robben rather than Sneijder then why did van Marwijk bring several other left-sided attackers? The Dutch exit from Euro 2008 after their explosive start was partially blamed on them making nine changes for their final group match and thus losing momentum. Having made just one change from the team that started the first two games in South Africa, there must surely have been room to change van der Vaart without risking the same outcome, especially as he is unlikely to play the next game anyway.
Cameroon failed to win a point from their three games at the World Cup and it owes a lot to what appears to be a lack of belief in their abilities. Watching them over the course of their matches, there never seemed to be any indication that they really felt they could win the games. Against the Japanese, they failed to take any sort of initiative against a team who were happy to sit back and defend and against the Danes they failed to take full advantage of some Danish defensive slips in what became a very open game. The Indomitable Lions already had their bags packed before their match against the Dutch but they had a chance to go out with a small piece of glory with a victory against a team who had their feet firmly off the gas. Instead, they limped out with little inspiration and go home with little to show for their endeavours. There are some promising young talents coming through for Cameroon, but they need the experienced players to rally round them, not go missing when it matters.
The Netherlands now face a match with Slovakia in Durban on Monday afternoon. Having seen Slovakia knock out the Italians earlier on today, the Dutch will be wary, especially as the scouting report will differ vastly to the intelligence they will have gained from the limp Slovakian performances in their first two games. With Robben looking as dangerous as ever in his cameo, the Netherlands will believe they have the attacking talent to overcome Slovakia, but they will have concerns about their own defence. At no point in this world cup has the Dutch backline really been troubled, but they are yet to play a team who has come and attacked them like the Slovakians attacked Italy. Going forward, the Dutch still have several gears left to go through, but they must begin to use them and hope the defence proves tight. If they can get past Slovakia, then the Netherlands have a real chance of glory with several big nations already having fallen.
Cameroon – Souleymanou – Assou-Ekotto, N’koulou (R Song, 73), Bong (Aboubakar, 56) Nguemo- Geremi, Makoun, Chedjou, Mbia, – Eto’o (c), Choupo-Moting ((Idrissou, 72)
Netherlands – Stekelenburg – Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst (c) – Kuyt, (Elia, 67), van Bommel, Sneijder, de Jong, van der Vaart (Robben, 73) – Van Persie (Huntelaar, 58)