The first match of the Group between the Netherlands and Denmark featured few chances. After a tight first-half, the game sparked into life when Simon Poulsen was caught out of shape and headed the ball against Daniel Agger into the back of his own net. It was a comical own-goal to say the least and a moment the Danes never recovered from. All the pre-match talk was on whether Nicklas Bendtner would start or not. When Olsen all but ruled him out just days before it appeared that Jon Dahl Tomasson would front their attack. It came as a big shock when it was announced the Arsenal striker would start. He could only last 60 minutes and his side never troubled the Dutch goal. Dirk Kuyt sealed the three points when he poked in after Eljero Elia’s shot had rebounded off the post. The Dutch comfortably won the game in the end, but if Poulsen had not of conceded an own-goal it could of ended in a stalemate.
Japan and Cameroon were up next and heading into the game the African outfit were favourites to win. The Indomitable Lion’s preparations were disrupted as Samuel Eto’o and former striker Roger Milla were embroiled in a war of words. Milla received legendary status when he scored four goals for the Lions the 1990 World Cup, where they reached the quarterfinal. He criticised Eto’o claiming he has not replicated his club form for his country. The Inter Milan striker took exception to this and even threatened to skip the finals. He did not, but the outburst damaged team morale and along with Paul le Guen’s poor tactics, they lost to rank outsiders Japan. The match was one of poor quality, a running theme so far in Group E, with Honda grabbing the only goal.
The second of round matches offered more entertainment as all the teams were desperate for points. The Dutch all but qualified for the knock out stage after a 1-0 win over Japan. The Japanese were impressive in keeping out the orange army from scoring. With a little help from the Jabulani ball, Wesley Sneijder fired his side into the lead. The goalkeeper seemed to have the shot under control but the late movement of the ball took it away from his hands and into the net. The Dutch never stepped into top gear during their first two matches but it was just enough to take them through. Arjen Robben suffered a hamstring injury just before the start of the World Cup and he was not risked in the first two games. They coped without him well and his inclusion in the later stages of the tournament will improve the Dutch’s chances of winning their first World Cup.
The evening match between Cameroon and Denmark was a highly entertaining encounter. Both sides needed a win as they had both lost their opening games. This treated fans to goalmouth action littered with defensive errors. Prior to the match, senior Cameroon players demand le Guen to drop the inexperienced players in favour of Alex Song. The coach allowed the changes and it looked as if it had worked when the Lions roared out of the blocks and took an early lead against the Danes. The Reds were again guilty of poor defending when Eto’o pounced upon Christian Poulsen’s lazy pass. Poulsen and his defenders were casually passing the ball amongst themselves when they were eventually caught out. The Scandinavians reacted well to going one down and they soon equalised. Palermo defender produced a wonderful long range cross to release Dennis Rommedahl into space. The winger then crossed a low ball into the path of Nicklas Bendtner who slotted the ball home. Rommedahl scored the winner with a left footed shot, which curled past the goalkeeper into the far corner of the net. The defeat sent Holland through and knocked Cameroon out of the World Cup, with the blame largely directed towards the Head Coach. In the aftermath le Guen accepted responsibility for their failings but vowed to fight on. He may not have a say on his future, as the squad were clearly not happy with his tactics throughout.
Denmark headed into their game with Japan knowing a win would send them through. Japan only needed a draw and goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was wary of the Japanese. Two stunning free kicks by the Asian side knocked the sail out of the Danes wind and secured their qualification. Keisuke Honda’s initial strike gave the Japanese the lead and Yasuhito Endo’s effort curled beautifully past the wall to leave the Danes stunned. They could not get back into the game with Rommedahl and Bendtner failing to live up to their quality. The one positive outcome of the match for the Danes was Jon Dahl Tomasson’s goal that made him his nation’s joint top goal scorer with Poul Nielsen. The Dutch beat Cameroon 2-1 to seal first place in Group E, thanks to goals from Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar. Samuel Eto’o scored his second goal of the tournament with a penalty but it did not hide away the fact they have lost all three of their games.