World Cup 2010 (Day 9): Shooting Blanks …

… At times today, Cameroon were so damn fun to watch. Attacking in waves, with speed, they gave the impression of being an attacking side that was going to be too much for Denmark to handle. Ghana, meanwhile, appeared to be on top of things having drawn level vs. Australia, and playing up a man.

But in the end, their shooting compared better to A-Team characters than soccer players. A hail of fire, with little hitting the target. Combined, Cameroon and Ghana found the frame with just 12 of 47 total shots. And we didn’t even have Murdoch to entertain us.

Cameroon got a lead on a mistake from Denmark goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, in playing a short pass to Christian Poulsen on the edge of the penalty area instead of clearing the ball long. Poulsen compounded the error by playing a square pass to no one in particular, which was stolen by a Cameroon front line. Samuel Eto’o found himself on the receiving end of the good fortune, and his goal left Cameroon ahead just 10 minutes in.

Despite Nicklas Bendtner scoring to draw Denmark level before halftime, and even a sweet strike from Dennis Rommedahl to give Denmark the lead, Cameroon still looked full value to at least draw level. But time after time, opportunities were wasted, sent wide, high, deflected away, you name it. Some would argue they were unlucky not to score, but as was noted on the commentary during the match – Cameroon weren’t unlucky, because they should have finished their chances. I fully expected Cameroon to put more than one goal past Denmark. I was surprised, almost frustrated, that Cameroon couldn’t get it right, because they were fun to watch. Instead, they’re now eliminated, and as a result, Netherlands – 1-0 winners over Japan this morning – are in the last 16.

Ghana’s case might even be more frustrating. For a while in their match with Australia, Ghana were all over it in attack, also attacking up all channels and befuddling the Australian defense. After an early Aussie goal by Brett Holman, Ghana drew level when 204-year-old Harry Kewell was called for a handball on the goal line, denying a Ghana goal. Kewell was sent off, and Asamoah Gyan put home the penalty to tie the game on 25 minutes.

Up a man throughout the second half, however, Ghana confounded all those watching the game who were rooting for them, or those who just like smart soccer, by continually bashing shots from 25-35 yards out in the direction of Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. But most of them weren’t anywhere near the goal, and of the 24 shots Ghana took on the day, only a mere five were on goal. Very rarely did they break down the Australian defense, in an attempt to use the extra man to their advantage. Instead, it was like Ghana were playing a game of who can shoot worst from the farthest out, with the efforts getting more horrible as time moved on. When Schwarzer was called upon, he got the job done, giving Australia a badly needed point, and keeping Ghana from truly taking command of Group D after Germany’s loss yesterday.

Ghana still lead the group on four points, but Germany and Serbia lay in wait just a point back, with Germany getting Ghana on the final day of group play. If Ghana doesn’t advance to the last 16, they’ll only have their own tactics and perhaps impatience in the attack to blame. Australia are a longshot to move on, but a win over Serbia would at least give them a shout.

Today’s other game saw the Netherlands take control of Group E with a 1-0 win over Japan. Wesley Sneijder’s fantastic blast in the 53rd minute was all the Netherlands needed, and it’s a good thing, because they weren’t demonstrating Total Football, as it were. They’re doing enough to get the job done against their group competition, but will need to play better to fulfill my thought that they are going to win this Cup. Still, they have 2 wins from 2 games, which is more than some other highly-regarded teams going in have managed to accomplish to this point. The Netherlands play Cameroon to wrap up group play, and with Cameroon’s loss, are already in the last 16 – the first team to qualify for the knockout stages.

Tomorrow, Group F action features Slovakia vs. Paraguay, then Italy vs. New Zealand. The afternoon finale gives us a neat matchup in Group G, as Brazil take on Ivory Coast. Group F is wide open, as both opening-day matches were draws.

If you’re looking forward to tomorrow’s action, or have thoughts on what we saw today, have at it in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading.

SUNDAY’S PREDICTIONS:
Paraguay 2-1 Slovakia
Italy 3-1 New Zealand
Brazil 1-0 Ivory Coast

Today’s Record: 1-2.
Tournament Record: 11-15.