Here’s a great aspect of a global tournament like the World Cup: matches where the viewer comes in with no real rooting interest. Just two nations who have never been to war with your country (that you can recall, anyway), lining up against each other in an attempt to move on to the next round.
What makes that great is how you (I) inevitably wind up rooting hard for one side or the other. It usually doesn’t take more than five or 10 minutes to decide that, either.
Take this afternoon’s third match, Cameroon and Denmark. If Denmark loses, their chances in Group E would take a huge hit, with the Netherlands picking up their second win over Japan earlier in the day, 1-0. If Cameroon loses, they’re out, no chances to speak of, and another African country takes a hit on their home continent. So, briefly, a draw isn’t great for either side, and a loss is devastating.
Just a few minutes into this one, it’s obvious who I’ll be pulling for. Cameroon has an edgy, daring offense, with its midfielders happy to jump up to the front and everyone ready for a quick strike on the goal. A Danish defender made a terrible decision and flubbed a pass deep in his own zone (why was he trying to pass there, anyway?), and captain Samuel Eto’o, who spends his winters with Inter Milan, took advantage and put one in the net. 1-0, Denmark’s defense looks passive at best, and this is all good.
That said, Cameroon’s ultra-aggressive stance worked to their disadvantage defensively, and the Danes were able to take advantage, first on a goal from Nicklas Bendter in the first half and another from Dennis Rommedahl in the second, where he made defender Jean Makoun look bad. 2-1 advantage for the Europeans, and that’s how it would stay.
But that wasn’t the whole story. The real story was what turned into arguably the most exciting match of the tournament so far, with both teams playing open and loose, the ref keeping whistles to a minimum and Cameroon putting an unholy assault on the net. They scored one goal, but they could have had 10. They had chance after chance, and when the situation got desperate in the final 15 minutes, they started sending seven and eight men up front, just peppering keeper Tomas Sorensen.
Every time they were in the box, I was on my feet yelling at the screen. I wanted one of those balls to find the net in the worst way, and if possible, two or three of them. I wanted Cameroon to walk out of Loftus Versfeld Stadium with four goals and a win and a chance to advance against the Netherlands on Thursday afternoon.
It didn’t happen. It’s tough. Tougher on Cameroon and their countrymen, obviously. But still, they’re a fun squad and it would’ve been great to see them advance. We’ll all be waiting for the 2014 tournament in Brazil soon enough, but their wait will start a little sooner. And it will be a long wait, for sure.