Netherlands beats Cameroon in Group E finale

Netherlands beats Cameroon in Group E finale

By Matt O'Leary
Special to

My fast-paced stretch of 10 games in 13 days came to an end at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Thursday night. Upon seeing the game schedule six months ago, I expected Group Es final group match between the Netherlands and Cameroon to be one of the most important games that I had tickets for. But once Cameroon was defeated by Denmark last Saturday, it meant that last nights game in Cape Town would be a mostly meaningless affair.

The Dutch led the group with six points and barring an unlikely set of circumstances where they lost their final game and Japan scored a number of goals in a win against Denmark, the Dutch would remain top and win Group E. Cameroon had been the first side mathematically eliminated from World Cup play following their disappointing showing in a 2-1 loss against the Danish last weekend and had could only play for pride.

The walk to the stadium had the feel of a big game. The vendors stalls were all set along the side of the road, the Dutch fans in bright orange were singing and it was overall a colorful atmosphere. Once the game started though you could tell something was missing, the game simply lacked an edge to it. I was impressed that the Netherlands started the majority of their best players and head coach Bert van Marwijk only rested their players with yellow cards. Cameroon started with a similar lineup to last weekend but star striker Samuel Etoo came out very slow. After creating a few half-chances in the first ten minutes, Cameroon did not see much of the ball in the first half as the Netherlands kept possession through the likes of Kuyt, van Bommel and Nigel de Jong.

One thing of note in the first half was the length of the wave that was started in one corner of the ground. Almost all the games I had been to featured the so-called Mexican wave at some point during games but this match easily displayed the longest wave I have seen. Green Point is a large stadium and the wave convincingly got around the stadium four or five times making for quite an impressive sight. Its the sign of a rather average game however, when the wave is the spectacle that keeps the fans most interested.

The Dutch scored about ten minutes before half-time after another African goalkeeping error. It was good football by the Dutch that allowed Robin van Persie to get behind the Cameroon defense but he should never have been able to score from such a tight angle. The ball went through the Cameroon keepers legs and the Netherlands took a deserved lead into halftime.

The second half began at a rather lazy pace as the neutrals in the stadium started to get behind Cameroon. It seemed that Samuel Etoo was trying to do everything himself and his team severely lacked the killer pass in the final third that would open up the Dutch defense. The breakthrough finally came when the Africans won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. The consequential free kick struck Mark van Bommel in the arm and the Chilean referee pointed to the spot. The captain Etoo stepped up and fired an impressive penalty into the middle-left corner of the net to tie the game at 1-1.

Another major highlight of this somewhat drab contest was the introduction of Dutch magician Arjen Robben. Robben, considered by many to be the Netherlands most influential player had been sidelined by a hamstring injury since a week or two before the start of the World Cup. Coach Bert van Marwijk must have believed him to be fully fit to give him some minutes in their final group game. He played high on the right and was not getting too many touches in the game before he was played in behind the Cameroon defense in the 85th minute. Robben, was caught by the defenders, pulled the ball back and dribbled across the top of the 18 before firing a terrific shot off the right post. The ball rebounded perfectly to fellow substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar who coolly slotted into the empty net to give the Dutch the 2-1 lead and the eventual win.

The Netherlands became just the second team after Argentina to win their first three games of the World Cup, and more importantly gave Robben some much needed minutes on the field. The Dutch will now square off against a determined Slovakian side in the round of 16 as the country hopes to reach their first World Cup final since 1978. People say the Netherlands are the best footballing nation to have never won a World Cup and perhaps this could be their year. They are very organized defensively and with Robben back on the field they have the necessary firepower going forward to be capable of beating anyone. Keep an eye on the Dutch as they begin their run through the knockout stage towards the elusive World Cup title.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.