Twenty years after their finest hour on the world stage, Cameroon are walking a wire without a safety net here in South Africa. Beaten 1-0 by Japan in a match they were tipped to win, and scheduled to face the Netherlands in their third Group E game, the west Africans must emerge victorious from their upcoming encounter with Denmark to retain any realistic chance of qualifying for the Round of 16.
While Denmark appear, on paper at least, to be in the same boat, Morten Olsen's men do have the consolation of knowing that they have already got their most difficult match out of the way, an impressive-looking Dutch side having put them to the sword 2-0. As for Japan, unexpected gatecrashers at the Group E party, they will approach their clash with the Netherlands in a fearless state of mind, even if a draw might represent a good result under the circumstances. Both they and the Dutch would tie up a place in the second round with victory, should the Cameroon-Denmark contest produce a draw.
In the day's other game, Ghana and Australia, both last-16 qualifiers at Germany 2006, will take to the pitch with very different build-ups behind them. Boosted by their 1-0 triumph over Serbia, the Black Stars could take a huge step towards the next round by beating a Socceroos side that was taken apart by Germany. An added headache for coach Pim Verbeek is the absence of their talisman Tim Cahill, suspended after being sent off against Germany. The Africans and the Aussies have never met before at the FIFA World Cup, but in six previous friendly matches, Australia hold the upper hand with four wins.
Netherlands-Japan, Group E, Durban, 13.30
Ghana-Australia, Group D, Rustenburg, 16.00
Cameroon-Denmark, Group E, Tshwane/Pretoria, 20.30
The big game
In the first-ever encounter between these two proud footballing nations, each knows that any result other than a win could well end their hopes of advancing to the next round. Cameroon's self-appointed role of African flag-bearer is one they are now close to relinquishing, a state of crisis having been declared following their defeat by Japan. Much debate surrounds Samuel Eto'o and his possible deployment through the middle or out wide, the role he fulfils at Inter Milan. "I accept responsibility for my selection," says coach Paul Le Guen, perhaps wishing that Cameroon, like Inter, could call on a Diego Milito figure for Eto'o to aim those crosses at.
Facing the Indomitable Lions will be a Denmark side that, despite some remarkable results in qualifying, appeared to be suffering from fatigue against the Netherlands, in addition to injuries to key forwards. Although the Danes caused the Dutch a few problems, they were often second to the 50-50 balls, which would go some way to explaining the unfortunate manner in which both goals were conceded. But Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen believes that his team only had themselves to blame, insisting that "you create your own luck in football".
Honda v the Oranje
The 24-year-old Keisuke Honda, Japan’s man of the match against Cameroon and scorer of the only goal, knows all about Dutch football, having spent two seasons with VVV-Venlo, during which time he found the net 24 times in 64 appearances. Hugely motivated by his excellent start to South Africa 2010, the goal-hungry CSKA Moscow midfielder is set to pose the biggest threat to the Netherlands defence.
What they said
"After this World Cup is over and done with, Paul will have to answer to his superiors, the same people that put their trust in him in the first place. And I, as a player and captain of this team, will need to do the same," Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon forward.
Did you know?
Like father, like son: In his first appearance at the global showpiece, Andre Ayew, 20, produced a lively second-half performance, almost opening the scoring for Ghana just after the break. "We can just feel that the whole continent, and all of South Africa, is behind us. We need to keep fighting, because what we're experiencing is truly marvellous," added Ayew, who captained Ghana to victory at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. The France-born player has another claim to fame as the son of Abedi Pele, revered for lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy with Marseille in 1993, and working for South African television during the tournament.
To be continued: By beating Denmark in their opening FIFA World Cup match, the Netherlands extended their unbeaten run to 20 matches comprising 15 wins and five draws. The Oranje's last defeat was in a friendly against Australia back in September 2008.
Away achievement: By coming out on top against Cameroon, Japan secured their first-ever FIFA World Cup victory beyond their shores. Their only two previous wins in the competition dated back to 2002, when a 1-0 defeat of Russia in Yokohama and 2-0 win over Tunisia in Osaka carried them through to the Round of 16.