World Cup Day 14 match previews – The World Champions are on the ropes while Denmark and Japan begin the knockout rounds early

Only two sides in action on day 14 of the World Cup know their fate before today’s set of games, and they meet in one of two late games in Group E. Netherlands”, who have already qualified, and Cameroon“, who have exited the competition collide while Denmark” and Japan” are left to scrap over the final qualifying spot for the last 16. Group F could see the end of three-time champions Italy, as they take on Slovakia” and New Zealand“, the surprise package meet group leaders Paraguay”.

PARAGUAY vs. NEW ZEALAND
3.00pm –Polokwane

Paraguay will be aiming to become the fourth South American side to reach the last-16 as they take on New Zealand, who themselves have ambitions of the knockout phase. Amazingly the All Whites are unbeaten at the World Cup, having held off the challenge of Slovakia and then Italy to secure two successive draws.

They go into the game against the world champions on equal points and goal difference meaning another identical result on Thursday, will see lots drawn to decide who will join Paraguay, who themselves are wary of relinquishing top spot in Group F as they will potentially avoid Netherlands. Their performance against Slovakia really laid down a marker for the rest of the tournament and they are sure to be a threat in the last 16.

New Zealand have combined superb defensive organization with the knack of finding the net at the crucial time and more of the same could result in them creating one of the greatest shocks in world cup history, by piping Italy to qualification.

SLOVAKIA vs. ITALY
3.00pm –Ellis Park, Johannesburg

While neither of these teams have hit their straps in this tournament, both go into their final group game with a realistic chance of making the last 16, but the onus is very much on Italy not to give up their world cup crown just yet. Andrea Pirlo is expected to return, to the delight of Italian fans. The Azzuri have sorely missed the AC Milan midfielder and he’ll be asked to help solve some of Marcelo Lippi side’s scoring problems with his excellent passing technique.

Slovakia has rarely done justice to their talented, young squad at these finals, and their pitiful display against Paraguay summed up a retched tournament thus far. However they are still in with a shot of making the last 16, needing a win, and a Paraguay success over New Zealand to make it. One shining light has been Marek Hamsik, whose breaks from midfield should have yielded more goals for the Slovaks, but inept finishing in the final third has prevented them making such breakthrough’s. A greater cutting edge for Vladimir Weiss’ side might make all the difference in this one.

DENMARK vs. JAPAN
7.30pm –Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg

Rustenburg plays host to a winner takes all clash between Denmark and Japan with both sides keen to assure a spot in the last 16. The Danes impressive win over Cameroon has set up this intriguing encounter, while the Japanese’s lack of panache in the group stage means they’ll start as underdogs. A draw would even be good enough for Japan, with goal difference coming to their rescue but if either of their opening group games are anything to go by, we can expect them to sit back and soak up the pressure. They do have an able defense with Marcus Tulio Tanaka controlling the line, a player who could soon be subject of a move to Europe.

Denmark certainly have the attacking line-up to hurt their opponents. Nicklas Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl both scored against Cameroon, while Jon Dahl Tomasson is just one goal away from becoming his countries joint leading goal-scorer, and it could be the perfect time to rectify what has been a quiet tournament on the part of the forward.

CAMEROON vs. NETHERLANDS
7.30pm –Green Point Stadium, Cape Town

This game may be being dubbed as irrelevant to the group’s final outcome, which is largely is, but it’s easy to forget the exciting encounters that has occurred in final ‘dead games’. You only have to go back to the 2006 World Cup to find Ivory Coast’s meeting with Serbia, with the African side winning 3-2 after being 2-0 early on in the game. Late goals helped ivory Coast win their first World Cup match, and the fight the Africans showed proved there is no such thing as dead game.

With so much attacking talent on show it’s impossible to see how we might be in for an uneventful evening. The likes of Arjen Robben could be welcomed back for Netherlands with Robin van Persie, Wesley Snijder and Dirk Kuyt all expected to be involved in some capacity, along with many of Bert van Marwijk’s second string. For Cameroon they boast one of the finest strikers in Europe, Samuel Eto’o who temporarily at least, fired Cameroon into the lead against Denmark, and his eye for goal will be crucial if Paul Le Guen’s side are to pull off the most unlikely of victories.

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