Group E really only has one team that is a threat to go deep in this tournament. Beyond that, it could be a crapshoot for which team gets the second spot in the elimination round. Denmark had arguably the most difficult qualification pod in European qualifiers, having to make their way through Portugal (ESPN #8), Sweden (ESPN #23), and Hungary (ESPN #67). Denmark has the makings of a team that could be a sleeper in this tournament, or could fizzle out quickly. The schedule doesn't work in their favor, matching them with group favorite the Netherlands in the first match. Their best hope to advance is to at least draw against the Netherlands then hope they can hold on and draw against Cameroon, another African country that the home crowds will be behind. With those two points in hand, they can go into their match with Japan knowing that a win will cleanly put them in the second round. More likely? They lose to the Netherlands and struggle against Cameroon. Cameroon has a favorable schedule and is probably the African team with the best chance to reach the elimination round.
Netherlands (FIFA - 4, ESPN - 4)
Denmark (FIFA - 36, ESPN - 21)
Cameroon (FIFA - 19, ESPN - 25)
Japan (FIFA - 45, ESPN - 45)
Internationally, the Netherlands is known for wooden shoes and speed skating. Neither of those help them very much in the soccer department. Netherlands has been to 8 World Cups and has been in the top 4 three times. On one hand, you could see the Dutch as an underdog because of their traditional Plaxico Burress routine in the World Cup. On the other hand, they're ranked #4 in the world and wear orange jerseys. How many teams do you know that wear orange jerseys? Okay, now how many of those do you like?
The Cleveland Browns?
The Cincinnati Bengals?
The Philadelphia Flyers?
In the end, the Dutch soccer team is a lot like Phil Mickelson of the early 2000s. In other words, the best in the world to never win "the big one." Like Phil, they're exciting to watch (maybe the most exciting team in the tournament), even if they are...the Dutch.
Something's rotten in the state of Denmark.
Not really, this is a pretty good team. I just wanted to make a Hamlet reference. The Denmark-Netherlands match might be one of the top 3 matches in the first rounds of the tournament. The ensuing Denmark-Cameroon match should decide who moves on to the elimination round. The Danes have been to the World Cup 3 times in their history and have progressed to the elimination round every time. So what's to like about the Danish? Besides being a delicious breakfast pastry, their soccer team is led by midfielder Christian Poulsen who might have some of the best hair in the tournament.
It's not quite Fedotenko hair, but Poulsen had more goals in qualifying than Fedotenko did in April & May combined. If you remember back to the Olympics, a lot of people put up a hooplah over their women's curling team. The team didn't really win anything, but one of the curlers posed naked for some magazine in Europe, so that was a big deal or something. Want to know all about it?
Besides their curlers, there's some other things to like about Denmark. Metallica albums Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets were recorded in Copenhagen. Denmark was the home of Niels Bohr. If that's not badass enough for you, it is also the country where Legos were invented and the home of the original LEGOLAND.
Cameroon might be one of the most confusing teams in international play. In 2000 they won Olympic gold in Sydney, two years after failing to win a game in the 1998 World Cup. They followed their gold medal performance by going 1-1-1 in the 2002 World Cup, missing the elimination round again. They missed the 2006 World Cup and have only reached the knockout round once in 5 appearances on the world's biggest stage. They have qualified for more World Cups than any other African team, and could ride a home crowd boost to the second round if they can topple Denmark. Let's face it, they're not going to beat the Dutch. They aren't the tallest team in the world, but play to their speed on the wings.
Honestly, 90% of Americans have probably never heard of Cameroon. If they have, they probably can't point it out on a map. They have one of the best nicknames in all of sports, "The Indomitable Lions." Badass. Speaking of badassedness, midfielder Rigobert "Big Chief" Song sounds like he should be a final boss in a Resident Evil game (and he's been red-carded twice in World Cup Play). Cameroon will need the home crowd boost to get past Denmark into the second round. They should be able to beat Japan at least.
Japan has reached the last three World Cups and reached the elimination round once in 2002 when they hosted the tournament. Most Americans will probably be surprised to see that Japanese people don't actually look like Anime characters. With a front line made up of Goku, Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, Japan would be a formidable foe if the tournament was held on Sega. Cameroon probably expects these guys to meet them on the pitch for their opening game.
Joking aside, they legit have a midfielder named Honda. I guess he had an easier time stopping when running with the ball than the guy named Toyota. Honda is, by most accounts, one of the best free kickers in the world, replacing Nakamura.
No, not that one. His show got cancelled because it jumped the shark.
The team's captain is nicknamed "The Bomber." Um...a little too soon after Pearl Harbor I think for that one. In all likelihood, Japan gets swept out of this group. They might play Denmark and Cameroon close, but a tie is really their ceiling in this group.
Ian's Predictions: The Netherlands and Denmark.
Cory's Predictions: Netherlands and Cameroon. Cameroon has a bad ass name and kinda seems like we should be watching Cool Runnings when we talk or read about them.