Cameroon tonight became the first team to be knocked out of the World Cup after a wild night of attacking thrills in Pretoria. But they, along with most of the crowd here, will be scratching their heads and wondering quite how it happened.
Paul Le Guen's side threw everything at Denmark, created much the better chances — they had 23 shots to 13 — and forced Thomas Sorensen into a series of desperate saves. They went ahead early through Samuel Eto'o and had most of the possession afterwards but it was all to no avail. Two fine goals on the counter, from Nicklas Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl, knocked the stuffing out of them and with Japan and Denmark, who both have three points, playing each other in the final group game Cameroon are out.
Cameroon arrived in Pretoria riven by feuding following Le Guen's decision to deploy Eto'o on the right and omit Alex Song for the team's defeat to Japan. This time round Le Guen – pressured by government officials and Eto'o himself – reversed his decisions and, with Eto'o in the centre, Song guarding the back four and Achille Emana brought in to bolster the attack, Cameroon looked far better for it.
They attacked from the off and went ahead after 10 minutes after an eyes-wide-shut mistake from Christian Poulsen, who passed blind to the right from the edge of his penalty area to Eyong Enoh, who crossed for Eto'o to slide past Sorensen. As the Cameroonians celebrated, Le Guen clapped and pumped his fists on the sidelines, but he cut a lonely figure.
Denmark, having lost their opening match to Holland, also picked a team intent on attacking, with Jesper Gronkjaer brought in for Thomas Enevoldsen and Jon Dahl Tomasson playing behind Nicklas Bendtner in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
But this sacrificed their defensive solidity, and they were repeatedly exposed whenever Eto'o and Emana ran at them. Emana should have made it two when he ran on to a defensive clearance and smashed it just wide.
Their defence was creaking but at the other end Denmark had chances too in what quickly proved to be the most open game of the tournament. Early on, Rommedahl took a pass from Christian Poulsen, cut in from the right and shot over. Then Bendtner turned Nicolas Nkoulou to collect Rommedahl's pass only for his close-range shot to be smothered.
But it was still a minor surprise when, shortly after the half-hour, Denmark equalised. From just outside his own penalty area Simon Kjaer hit a spectacular 70-yard pass over Benoît Assou-Ekotto and into Rommedahl's path. Rommedahl took one touch and crossed to Bendtner who slotted home from close range.
By this stage both teams had already given up trying to defend. In the space of two minutes before half-time Rommedahl's shot was smothered, Tomasson smashed over from 12 yards, Eto'o hit the post and Emana missed a one-on-one.
The second half was the same with Sorensen forced to tip over Mbia's header. Cameroon continued to look the better side and came close to retaking the lead when Pierre Webo shot straight at Sorensen from an Assou-Ekotto's cross.
As Webo held his hands to his face, Denmark broke quickly. From a central position Bendtner chipped a lovely pass into the space Assou-Ekottu had vacated and into the path of Rommedahl, who turned inside Nkoulou before curling a shot into the far corner.
Cameroon continued to have the better of the chances and when Eto'o played in Makoun, only for Cameroon to spurn another chance Le Guen was jumping up and down on the touchline in frustration.
Denmark nearly increased their lead on 71 minutes when Tomasson's curling shot was spectacularly tipped away. Cameroon kept searching for the equaliser and 13 minutes from time Sorensen had to make the best save of the night, diving down low to his left to keep out Emana's shot.
Still the chances kept coming. Mohamadou Idrissou missed a free-header from six yards out, and substitute Vincent Aboubakar's piledriver was surely going in when it smashed into the head of Christian Poulsen.
In the dying moments Kjaer picked up a yellow card which means he will miss the match against Japan on Thursday. But after somehow surviving this battering that will be far from Danish minds tonight.
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