CAPE TOWN: Already-qualified Netherlands will be at full strength against out-of-contention Cameroon in their final Group E match on Thursday in a bid to avoid a hat-trick of early knockout exits after fielding weakened teams.
In the 2006 World Cup and at Euro 2008 the Dutch qualified after their first two group games. Both times then-coach Marco van Basten rested big names for the final match and in both tournaments they were beaten in the first knockout round.
This time, on six points after wins over Denmark and Japan, there is still top place to play for as a defeat by Cameroon coupled with a healthy win for either of the other sides who meet in Rustenburg could relegate them to second place.
Coach Bert van Marwijk is not taking any chances. "I don`t plan to make many changes," he told reporters, saying he wanted to maintain the team`s rhythm.
"It will be a different story when players are not completely fit and we also have to see when Arjen Robben is ready to play. It could be that he plays Thursday."
Robben has been on the sidelines so far as he recovers from his latest injury, this time a hamstring problem, but he has hardly been missed as the Dutch started strongly against Denmark and looked even more clinical against Japan.
"Every match is a step to a higher target," said holding midfielder Mark van Bommel. "That is why we can`t let it go against Cameroon as the next match will be the knockout phase and then you have to be ready again."
Cameroon have nothing to play for but pride after defeats by Japan and Denmark meant they had got through to the knockout stage only once -- in 1990 when they lost to England in the quarter-finals -- in six appearances at the World Cup.
"We cannot afford to participate in a big tournament like the World Cup and go back without a point," said goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou. "It will be the worst in our country`s history. We cannot let this happen.
"We are going to give all our energy, we`re going to give our best to show that Cameroon remains a great football nation. The Lions can still roar."
The statistics tell a harsh tale because Cameroon contributed greatly to an entertaining game against Denmark and could easily have had more goals.
Coach Paul Le Guen, widely criticised even by some of his own players, for controversial selections against Japan, brought back the likes of Alexandre Song, Geremi and Achille Emana.
He also moved leading striker Samuel Eto`o from an unaccustomed wide position back to the middle from where he scored the opener in the 2-1 defeat.
Those players should keep their places although there may be other changes. Rigobert Song, Aurelien Chedjou and keeper Carlos Kameni could come in while defender Gaetan Bong, striker Eric Choupo-Moting and midfielder Joel Matip are also in contention.
BDST: 1024hrs, June 23, 2010