Review: NEDERLAND (2) vs CAMEROUN (1)
Arjen Robben came off the bench to help the Nederland secure a 2-1 victory over Cameroun that seals top spot in Group E and sets up a last-16 date with Slovensko. Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar were on target either side of a Samuel Eto'o penalty at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium as Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje preserved their unblemished record at South Africa 2010.
With the Dutch already through and the Indomitable Lions consigned to elimination, some might have expected a game lacking in passion and excitement. As it was, any fears of an under-strength Nederland side facing an unmotivated Cameroun proved groundless, with both coaches sending out their strongest 11s in front of a noisy capacity crowd.
The Indomitable Lions were the first to threaten with Aurelien Chedjou twisting into wide space from goal and forcing a solid save from Maarten Stekelenburg after just three minutes. However, Cameroun's early promise steadily diminished and with 19 minutes played, the Nederland should have moved in front.
Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst split the Cameroun central defenders with a terrific lofted pass for Van Persie but although the Dutch nombor 9 controlled well on his chest, he fired in a tame volley on his weaker foot that Hamidou Souleymanou was able to gather comfortably. But the Dutch were getting closer and after Souleymanou had again been called upon to deal with Rafael van der Vaart's curling free-kick, the unmarked Dirk Kuyt drilled a right-foot effort wide of the far post when he should really have hit the target.
The striker made amends five minutes later however, when he was involved in a slick interchange on the right flank with Van der Vaart and Van Persie that ended with the latter being threaded through on goal. Again, the chance fell to his right foot, but this time the Arsenal striker was deadly, coolly slipping the ball between the legs of the advancing Souleymanou.
The goal was Van Persie's first at South Africa and he might have doubled his tally five minutes into the second half after his pace and powerful running took him clear of the Cameroun defence. This time though, he was not able to outfox the keeper with Souleymanou saving well from his powerfully-struck shot. Van Persie made way for Huntelaar soon after and this change coincided with a switch in the balance of power, as Cameroun took control. First, Samuel Eto'o was denied by an excellent saving challenge from Joris Mathijsen, then Landry Nguemo side-footed just wide and, finally with the best chance of the three, Stekelenburg saved from Jean Makoun's unconvincing effort.
Frustrated from open play, Cameroun finally made the breakthrough from the penalty spot, Eto'o placing an inch-perfect spot-kick high to Stekelenburg's right after Van der Vaart had handled inside the area. However, Van Marwijk still had a trump card to play in Robben and after being introduced for his first taste of this year's World Cup, the Bayern Munich winger provided the inspiration for his side's winning goal.
In a typical display of skill and directness, Robben drove inside from the right, beyond Cameroun substitute Rigobert Song and curled a superb effort against the inside of the post. Fortunately for the Dutch, the ball rebounded fortuitously to another substitute, Huntelaar and with Souleymanou stranded, the AC Milan striker made no mistake with a perfectly placed right-foot shot.
For Arjen Robben, it was the moment he feared would never come. Nineteen days after pulling up with an injury that looked like wrecking his World Cup campaign, the Nederland winger finally stepped on to South African turf, a cacophony of cheers and vuvuzelas ringing triumphantly in his ears.
The crowd’s reaction to Robben’s return said it all. By the hero’s welcome and acclaim they afforded his every touch, neutrals and partisans alike acknowledged the presence of a special player very nearly denied to Africa’s first World Cup. Yet no-one was happier at Robben’s return than the player himself. For the Bayern Munich star, tonight was the reward for almost three weeks of tireless toil to accelerate the healing process, although he admitted that the experience had been worth every second of sacrifice.For all the Nederland's success during an unblemished Group E campaign, it is clear that Robben has been an uneasy spectator, with Bert van Marwijk left to guard against the winger rushing his return to action. Nonetheless, having come through his opening test with flying colours, the Oranje nombor 11 is a man in a hurry. A starting place is his next objective, and the first opportunity to claim that will come when the Dutch return to Durban for a last-16 tie against the team who shocked everyone today by ousting the world champions.