Dutch to dazzle despite Robben absence

JOHANNESBURG - Netherlands remain among the favourites to win the World Cup for the first time despite losing winger Arjen Robben for their opening World Cup match against Denmark on Monday with a thigh injury.

The Dutch certainly appear likely to win Group E although Cameroon, inspired by three-times African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto'o, Japan and the Danes will all have other ideas.

Netherlands go into the tournament in outstanding form following victories by 2-1 over Mexico, 4-1 against Ghana and a thumping 6-1 scoreline versus Hungary in the last two weeks.

If they start as they began Euro 2008, when they enjoyed brilliant performances and wins over world champions Italy and 2006 World Cup runners-up France, they could have their place in the last 16 wrapped up after their opening two matches.

Struggling Japan are their second opponents.

In contrast to the rampant Dutch, Denmark went down 1-0 to Australia and South Africa in their last two warm-up games, while Japan have lost their last four friendlies.

Although Cameroon failed to win in their last seven warm-ups French coach Paul Le Guen was still very pleased with his team's progress and optimistic about their chances.

Netherlands midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart said this week the self-belief in Bert Van Marwijk's squad was so high they did not just want to finish top of the group but felt they had what it takes to win the tournament.

"Like Spain, we have some very good players and a very good coach," he told reporters. "We have (Wesley) Sneijder, Robben, we have lots of quality. And if we get there in good shape, we definitely have possibilities to win the World Cup."

Apart from Robben's thigh problem, picked up versus Hungary, the Dutch have had a largely trouble-free build-up and if they stop conceding sloppy goals they could reach the later stages.

MILLA REMARKS

There will be huge media attention on Cameroon, who became the most successful African team in a World Cup with a quarter-final place in 1990 and whose achievement, although matched by Senegal in 2002, has never been bettered.

Their preparations have been unsettled by the remarks of Roger Milla, one of the heroes of 1990, about Eto'o, questioning his commitment to the cause and saying he did not play as well for Cameroon as he does for his club side Inter Milan.

Eto'o, who helped Inter win the Champions League last month and is dreaming of an astonishing double with a World Cup triumph as well, briefly hinted he would not take part in the tournament following Milla's criticism.

That threat has subsided and Cameroon's outstanding player will lead a strong, tough and experienced squad who could match or even better the team's performance 20 years ago.

Denmark, back in the World Cup after eight years, reached the finals in style and boast an experienced team that could qualify from the group. They are led by the astute Morten Olsen who will celebrate 10 years as coach during the tournament.

Japan, the first team to clinch a World Cup spot, have been so unimpressive that coach Takeshi Okada organised a final warm-up behind closed doors on Thursday although they failed to score against Zimbabwe over three 30-minute periods.

Netherlands face Denmark at Soccer City and Cameroon meet Japan at Bloemfontein when the group begins on Monday.

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