Denmark 2 - 1 Cameroon
Bendtner 33 Eto'o 10
After twenty six games, the first question is resolved. Holland are definitely through to the last sixteen, and Cameroon definitely aren't. In the African World Cup, the first nation to be eliminated is African.
It was a poor reward for such a great game, the best so far in the competition. And Cameroon started well. They harried the Danish defence, and forced an error from Christian Poulsen. His pass went straight to Webo, who crossed it for Eto'o to score easily. A minute later Emana shot just over, and it felt like Denmark might be overwhelmed before they got a foot in the game.
They steadied themselves, and a couple of chances fell to Gronkyaer. You may remember him from his Chelsea days. He plays for Copenhagen now, but he's still capable of fluffing chances at the highest level. First he had a shot deflected off a defender for a corner, then he dived to head a cross that was so low and close it would have fallen nicely for either foot, and sent it well wide.
The best thing about the game was the passing. Both sides were playing at a level that would leave England gasping in their wake. Fortunately we won't have to face Cameroon for a replay of the 1990 quarter final with England in the role of naive upstarts this time, but the world can only shake its head at the machinations of a fate so capricious it eliminates Cameroon while leaving England with a decent chance of winning their group.
Never mind, even if we can't marvel at our national team, at least we can enjoy the top stars from our clubs playing for other people. Spurs had two players in the Cameroon team, Asou-Ekotto and Bassong, and Arsenal had Song for them in midfield, and Bendtner for the Danes. They also had Agger from Liverpool, Jacobsen from Blackburn and Sorensen from Stoke in goal. At times it was like being in the Assembly on a Sunday afternoon.
The Danish equaliser came on 33 minutes. Rommedahl, the best Danish player by a mile, got onto a brilliant sixty yard pass from Kjaer, inaccurately identified in the BBC commentary as the player who gave away the first goal, and was away down the right. His pass was inch perfect for Bendtner to slide in and blast home.
There followed a bizarre period of play, in which defensive errors alternated with attacking breaks to a point impossible for your poor blogger to notate. First Song gave the ball away and it came through to Rommedahl, who pulled it back to X, whose shot was blocked by Song to atone for his error in the first place. On the break, Y miscontrolled a long pass to let Eto'o in, and he hit the post. Finally Emana picked up some more sloppy defending and got through one on one against Sorensen, who saved well. The rebound bounced back off Emana and over the line for a goal kick. Jim Beglie (wrongly identified by me as David O'Leary the other day, sorry about that) described it as Keystone Cops defending, which captured the slapstick nature of it.
I was a minute late back after halftime, so I missed the first chance, but it fell to Cameroon, and fortunately they didn't score. Both sides exchanged shots for a while, ending in a long pass from Webo through to Asou-Ekotto that was intercepted.
It left Asou-Ekotto out of position, the big danger with using wingbacks, and Rommedahl took full advantage. Finding himself up against the midfielder Makoun instead of a defender, he skipped round him, closed on the goal from the right and stroked it into the opposite corner. It was a popular goal in some parts of northern Europe, giving the Danes the lead and virtually guaranteeing Holland a place in the last sixteen, but across Africa faces fell. This was supposed to be their World Cup, and it hadn't been a good day. First Ghana could only get a draw from ten-man Australia, now Cameroon were behind to Denmark.
They really tried. Webo's header flew wide, and Makoun blasted Eto'o's inch perfect pullback over. Eto'o had a go himself, also wide. Cameroon's pressure was making things happen for them, but the extra space they were leaving gave Denmark plenty of opportunities too. Tomassen's shot was well saved, but if he'd only kept it lower it would have gone under the keeper and in. Emana kept his shot down for Cameroon, but Sorensen got down brilliantly to stop it with one hand, and the rebound fell to a Dane.
Idrissou and Aboubakar came on for Webo and Bassong. Idrissou's header from the next Cameroonian corner was just too high, and Kjaer had to bring down Aboubakar to stop him. His booking keeps him out of the Japan game, but you have to think Denmark will have enough anyway.
Aboubakar's best chance came from a break after Bendtner's shot was saved and quickly thrown out. His shot could have stood as a metaphor for bad African luck in this tournament, hitting Poulsen on the head as he lay on the ground after making a block. It flew wide, but Poulsen was dazed for a while. Still, if it takes the heat off him after his earlier defensive lapse he'll think it was worth it.
Assou-Ekotto's final desperate flicked header missed, and that was it. The vuvuzelas were silenced, and Cameroon trudged off in misery. After a stirring display, a great African hope had bitten the dust.
And I don't know why everyone thought the Africans would do well. European teams don't do well in Europe because playing on the sacred soil of our continental homeland inspires them, they do well because the climate is familiar. South Africa in June is less like Cameroon than it is like Copenhagen in October - nice enough in the daytime, but a bit chill after dark. In Germany four years ago everyone was complaining about the heat, in Africa this year they're all wearing thermal undies. If a successful African World Cup means African teams doing well, then it needs to be held in Egypt or Nigeria.