Soccer: Netherlands beat Cameroon for Slovakia showdown

CAPE TOWN - The Netherlands reaffirmed their status as one of the World Cup favourites today by beating Cameroon 2-1 to set up a knockout round clash with Slovakia.

Bert van Marwijk's team only needed a point to secure top spot in Group E but took all three with goals from Robin van Persie and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar cancelling out a Samuel Eto'o penalty.

They now play Group F runners-up Slovakia, who beat defending champions Italy 3-2 earlier in the day.

The Dutch once again proved they are one of the form sides in South Africa with a third win in a row, joining Argentina as the only teams with a 100 per cent record so far.

"We leave the World Cup with lots of regrets," said Cameroon's French coach Paul Le Guen. "We know that we were carrying lots of hopes from everyone in Cameroon but we weren't able to realise them."

With the stadium awash in a sea of orange, and Holland ironically playing in white, both sides began brightly, with Rafael van der Vaart getting an early shot on target while Aurelien Chedjou forced a save at the other end.

Chedjou was a surprise starter. Arsenal's Alex Song was listed on the team sheet but he failed to appear, with the Lille defender replacing him, seemingly at the last minute.

Cameroon came into the match with nothing but pride to play for, having already been eliminated, and they took the initiative, spraying the ball around and forcing Holland onto the back foot.

Midfielder Jean Makoun had a decent chance on 11 minutes, meeting Benoit Assou-Ekotto's fine cross, but glanced the ball wide.

Despite Cameroon having more of the early possession it was van Persie who should have opened the scoring.

The 26-year-old chested the ball down and shook off his defender but with only goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou to beat, he blasted his shot straight at him in a wasted opportunity.

Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt also had a fine chance after finding himself in space inside the penalty area soon after, but his daisy-cutter drifted just past the left-hand post.

The pressure though was building and the breakthrough came after a lovely one-two between van Persie and van der Vaart on 36 minutes, with the Arsenal striker sliding the ball through Souleymanou's legs.

The dangerous van Persie almost made it 2-0 soon after the second half started, muscling his way past two defenders and unleashing a powerful drive that Souleymanou did well to collect.

With the Oranje passing the ball neatly, Cameroon were struggling to create chances until captain Eto'o ghosted past three defenders in a mazy run only to see his shot deflected out for a corner.

His piece of magic sparked a mini-resurgence by the Africans, with Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg forced into a diving save before they won a free-kick on the edge of the area.

Geremi's resulting shot hit van der Vaart's arm and a penalty was awarded, which Eto'o calmly stepped forward to convert.

Veteran Cameroon defender Rigobert Song, 34 next week, came on in the 73rd minute and became the first African player to play at four World Cups.

"I brought Rigobert Song on, he's a player with lots of caps, a symbolic player," said Le Guen.

Star winger Arjen Robben also got his first taste of South African World Cup action when he came on for van der Vaart with 17 minutes left, having missed their opening two games with a hamstring injury.

He was in the thick of the action straight away, cutting in from the right and blasting a shot against the post in the 83rd minute, with Huntelaar burying the rebound to make it 2-1 and send the Dutch fans wild.

- AFP


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