By Matt O'Leary
In my third and final game at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, the two teams rooted at the bottom of Group E squared off against each other. Cameroon would be mathematically eliminated with a loss, while Denmark would need a minor miracle in order to qualify if they were to lose the match to Cameroon.
With high stakes riding on the game, both teams started out brightly. Instantly Cameroon looked like the faster of the two teams and created an opportunity within the first few minutes. It was my first time seeing Inter Milans Samuel Etoo play live and he was very impressive. He was constantly running across the forward line and checking back to the ball, and he found the back of the net in the tenth minute.
It was a simple error by the Danish defense as their right-back and centre-back failed to communicate and lost the ball in their own third. From there it was played to Etoos feet just inside the 18-yard box and he fired home to give Cameroon the lead. The stadium lit up when the goal went in and though there were not too many native Cameroon fans in attendance, the majority of the stadium was supporting the Cameroonians. With Bafana Bafana on the brink of elimination, it seems that native South Africans have taken to cheering for their home continent as well as their home team. It was mainly neutral fans sitting in my lower block section opposite the cameras, and they had all cheered after Etoos early goal and then fell silent together after Nicholas Bendter equalized for the Danes twenty minutes later.
Just as the Danish fans had been overrun by the colorful Dutch fans at Soccer City last Monday, they were similarly outnumbered in Pretoria. At Soccer City, the bigger sections of Danish support stood for the entire match but this wasnt the case in Pretoria. There was an eerie calm surrounding the Danish support, almost like they were collectively holding their breath until the final whistle. Perhaps they were so quiet because Cameroon was the team creating more scoring opportunities, and also the team that looked more likely to take the lead. The results of the tournaments opening ten days suggested that Cameroon would not be the side to score the all-important second goal. African sides had won just once in their first ten matches, while being slightly unfortunate and unlucky in some of those games.
The all-important second goal was all that Denmark needed to claim the vital three points. Similar to their first goal, it was a long ball that the Cameroon defense did not deal with, and the speedy Danish right winger cut inside the area and placed his shot in the corner of the goal. The stadium seemed to be in shock; Cameroon had held all the possession and chances in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half yet it was Denmark that took the 2-1 advantage.
The goal deficit encouraged some attacking substitutions from the Cameroon head coach but his side failed to break down the Denmark defense. After taking the lead, Denmark sat back and played their four midfielders right in front of their four defenders, making it very difficult for Cameroon to penetrate up the middle. They were forced to resort to whipping crosses in from the wing but the height advantage that Denmark possessed made it hard on the Cameroon forwards, and to be honest I dont remember a decent headed chance for the Cameroonians the whole game.
The Western Africans were pressing so many men forward that it looked possible that Denmark would score on the counterattack. The Danes had a couple of counter opportunities but they failed to materialize, and in the end the three points were more important than the additional goal and the win pushes Denmark in to third place in Group E. The Cameroon players were left lying on the pitch after the final whistle, knowing that despite outplaying the Danes for much of the game, they were the first team mathematically eliminated from World Cup 2010.