Arjen Robben came off the bench to help the Netherlands secure a 2-1 victory over Cameroon that seals top spot in Group E and sets up a last-16 date with Slovakia. 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 Netherlands side facing an unmotivated Cameroon proved groundless, with both coaches sending out their strongest XIs in front of a noisy capacity crowd.
The Indomitable Lions were the first to threaten, with Aurelien Chedjou twisting into space 25 yards from goal and forcing a solid save from Maarten Stekelenburg after just three minutes. However, Cameroon's early promise steadily diminished and, with 19 minutes played, the Netherlands should have moved in front.
Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst split the Cameroon central defenders with a terrific lofted pass for Van Persie, but although the Dutch No9 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 Liverpool 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 2010, and he might have doubled his tally five minutes into the second half after his pace and powerful running took him clear of the Cameroon 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 Cameroon 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, Cameroon 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 the 2010 FIFA 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 Cameroon 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.