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FIFA World Cup: Netherlands beat Cameroon 2-1 to secure top spot in Group E

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rvp.jpgThe Netherlands scored a late winner to beat Cameroon 2-1 in the FIFA World Cup as they joined Argentina in becoming only the second side thus far to win all three of their group games. They now face Slovakia after the latter had shocked the world when they dumped defending champions Italy out of the tournament earlier in the day. Dutch substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the winner latching onto a rebound after a scorcher from the returning Arjen Robben struck the woodwork. The Bayern Munich winger was introduced at the Green Point Stadium with just 20 minutes remaining with the game level after Samuel Eto'o had equalised from the penalty spot to cancel out Robin van Persie's first half strike. The Arsenal striker showed signs he was regaining his brilliant early season form at Arsenal after he scored an excellent goal following some neat build up play. Cameroon, who were playing for nothing but pride following their two losses, improved after the break and will feel perhaps a tad unlucky that they walk away from this tournament without garnering a point.

Going into the game the Dutch, who had become the first side to reach the second round, knew that a point would guarantee them top place in the group and could even afford to lose the match and still claim first place. On the flip side Cameroon had become the first side to bow out of the tournament following their unfortunate 2-1 loss to Denmark and would have hoped to at least finish off their tournament with a consolation win.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk clearly felt his frontline needed some goals and some more game time together and hence made just one change from the team that had already beaten Denmark and Japan, with Khalid Bhoulahrouz replacing Gregory van der Wiel (who was carrying a yellow card) at right-back. Arjen Robben was forced to wait for his first appearance of the 2010 World Cup as he was left on the bench partially recovered from his hamstring injury.

The Africans made as many as five changes to the side that lost to Denmark including bringing in Gaeten Bong, Aurelien Chedjou, Jean II Makoun and Landry Nguemo for Achille Emana, the injured Eyong Enoh, Sebastien Bassong and Alex Song, while Eric Choupo-Moting replaced Pierre Webo up front. It was probably going to be the last time we saw Cameroon's record goal scorer 29-year-old Samuel Eto in a World Cup fixture with the skipper rumoured to be ready to retire after a tumultuous campaign.

And it was Paul Le Guen's side who fashioned the first early chance when defender Chedjou forced Maarten Stekelenburg into a routine save from long range. The Dutch were happy enough easing themselves into the match but the early exchanges understandably lacked the tension of a do or die encounter which we had been used to seeing so far in the tournament. But that did not stop the estimated 30,000 Dutch fans who had taken over the wonderful Green Point stadium from making their voices heard. Then on 19 minutes it was Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie who should have opened the scoring after he was put through intelligently by Giovanni van Bronckhorst. But he spurned the opportunity by shooting too close to keeper Souleymanou Hamidou. It was clear that Van Persie was still searching for some form, and he did not have to wait long before finding it.

The Dutch were slowly taking control of things in midfield as both Mark van Bommel and Wesley Sneijder began to make their presence known. Rafael van der Vaart curled in a free kick but again keeper Souleymanou comfortably gathered. Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg had a fright when he failed to punch a Geremi cross from open play, but the header from Makoun went high over the bar.

Then the Netherlands scored the goal which on the balance of play they just about deserved. Van Persie made amends from his earlier miss and showed just what he was capable of doing on 36 minutes as he broke the deadlock with a move he started and finished. He played a delightful one-two on the edge of the area with Van der Vaart before coolly finishing home between the legs of the keeper from a tight angle. It was a wonderfully crafted goal that showed what this Dutch side are capable of doing when they are in the mood. Cameroon did not throw in the towel and tried looking for the equaliser and it was Eto'o who perhaps should have done better from another great cross from Geremi but he failed to control the ball off his chest and the chance went begging. The Dutch were largely in control as the first half drew to a close as they aimed to join Argentina as the only side to win all three of their group games.

Van Persie could have had a second six minutes after the interval after Van Bommel sent him through, the striker's firmly struck shot was saved. Coach Van Marwijk replaced the Gunners' striker with just over 30 minutes remaining surely satisfied with his efforts as he looked to protect his hitman for sterner tests to follow. As the Dutch began to ease up it was Cameroon who really should have equalised as Chedjou played a superb ball through for Makoun, who looked offside, but his shot from a difficult angle was saved.

Then the Dutch really did shoot themselves in the foot after Van Der Vaart handled the ball as he attempted to protect his face from a fiercely struck Geremi free kick and Chile referee Pablo Pozo had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The Real Madrid midfielder should have known better and Eto'o duly slotted home to level the game. It was a goal the Africans probably deserved as they had showed the greater hunger and desire after the break in their bid to end their tournament with a flourish.

On 73 minutes the Dutch fans screamed their approval as Arjen Robben finally made his bow in this tournament replacing Van der Vaart, but the Dutch could not find the rhythm they enjoyed in the first half. But the impact of Van Marwijk's substitutions was soon to be felt by Cameroon as Robben cut in from the right and fired a 20-yard shot that rebounded off the right-hand post. The ball fell to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who kept his composure and passed the ball into an empty goal as Netherlands regained the lead with just 7 minutes remaining. It was perhaps tough on the Africans who had shown plenty of steel and pride after the break but the Dutch always seemed capable of going up through the gears when it was required.

With Van Persie finding form, and the back of the net, at just the right time the Dutch will be heading into the encounter against Slovakia full of confidence. With the further good news of the returning Robben, coach Van Marwijk's biggest problem could be over confidence as they aim to reach the quarter finals. Their match with underdogs Slovakia will take place in the afternoon on Monday, 28th June at Durban.

The Teams:

Cameroon: Hamidou (GK), M'Bia, Nguemo, N'Koulou(R Song, 73), Assou-Ekotto, Geremi, Makoun, Chedjou, Eto'o, Choupo-Moting (Idrissou, 72), Bong (Aboubakar 56')

Netherlands: Stekelenburg (GK), Boulahrouz, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst, Kuyt (Elia, 67) van Bommel, Sneijder, de Jong, van der Vaart (Robben, 73), van Persie (Huntelaar, 58)

Referee: Pablo Pozo (Chile)

Socreline: Cameroon 1 - 2 Netherlands
Netherlands: Van Persie 36', Huntelaar, 83
Cameroon: Eto'o 65 (pen)

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Japan 3 - 1 Denmark

Photos by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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