The Netherlands continued their impressive charge at the World Cup when they beat Cameroon 2-1 on Thursday to make it three wins out of three in Group E and advance to a last 16 meeting with Slovakia.
Having won all eight qualifiers, the Dutch, who have already beaten Denmark and Japan here, became the first team since Brazil in 1982 to win all their qualifying and group games.
They went into Thursday’s match already assured of progress and secured top spot with goals by Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar either side of a Samuel Eto’o penalty.
They also had the bonus of a return to action for winger Arjen Robben, who missed the first two games with a hamstring problem but delivered a late cameo off the bench.
Nicely balanced throughout the team, the Netherlands have qualified without ever needing to hit peak form and at present are flying the flag as Europe’s most impressive nation.
However, it was something of a mixed performance against Cameroon as they started slowly, took control, were again pushed back but finished strongly.
“In the first half I was relaxed but the second was very mediocre, I thought Cameroon might score and we might even lose,” Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said.
“Cameroon got a penalty and then we woke up ... this period of negligence is something we cannot afford and today was a lesson for the next match,” he said.
Cameroon can hold their heads high despite going home pointless — their worst showing in six World Cups.
After a few nervous moments in defense, Van Persie should have put the Netherlands ahead in the 19th minute when he chested down a lovely 40m pass by Giovanni van Bronckhorst but shot meekly at goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou.
However, the striker made sure in the 36th when a quick-fire one-two with Rafael van der Vaart put him through and he slotted the ball into the net through the goalkeeper’s legs.
The goal settled the Dutch and they began to fizz the ball around sharply on Green Point stadium’s high-speed surface.
Cameroon kept pressing though as Eto’o, Landry Nguemo, Jean Makoun and Aurelien Chedjou all had second-half chances.
Their pressure was rewarded when Van der Vaart, jumping in the wall, handled a Geremi free kick in the area and Eto’o equalized with a 65th-minute penalty.
Robben came on in the 73rd minute and, after looking lively from his first touch, set up the winner when his 20m shot rebounded from a post straight to substitute Huntelaar, who sidefooted it back into the empty net.
“I’m really pleased he played for 20 minutes and nothing happened [to the injury],” Van Marwijk said of Robben. “I expect he can play longer at the next match but I’m not sure if he will start.”
■LE GUEN STEPS DOWN
AFP, CAPE TOWN
Paul Le Guen revealed on Thursday that he would step down as coach of Cameroon but refused to be drawn on whether he would become the next man in charge of Australia.
The Frenchman made the announcement after the African side were eliminated from the World Cup following three straight defeats.
“We have lost all three matches and my contract with Cameroon is coming to an end,” he told a press conference after his team’s 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands at the Green Point Stadium. “It was planned all along that I would stop and I will stop with Cameroon.”
Le Guen, who took the Cameroon reins in July last year, has been linked with the head coaching role of the Australian national side but said that he has not yet made any decisions about his future.
“I’m going to think about the future and we will see,” he said.
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