Denmark 1-0 NetherlandsEarly forward flurries from the Oranje seemed to suggest the Dutch would stroll to the victory most expected of them in this opening game of Group B, instead, their abrupt, fruitless endings grew to symbolise the disappointing lack of Dutch cohesion and precision in the face of an impressive Danish team performance. The Danes, despite looking susceptible early on, illustrated the importance of being clinical in front of goal and, in tightening up defensively having scored, were able to frustrate the Dutch into their drab fizzling out.
Danes take an unexpected leadMuch of the debate surrounding the Dutch side in the run up to this tournament has been about the combination of midfield players which best balances their frailty at the back with their embarrassment of riches going forward. Given the results of their pre-tournament friendlies, Van Marwijk can be forgiven for opting with the starting line-up he chose, comprising of Van Bommel and De Jong deep, Sneijder playing in front of them, Afellay and Robben cutting in from the left and right respectively, with Van Persie upfront.
When these players were able to link well early on, they looked irresistible; Van Persie narrowly dragging wide before picking out Sneijder with a delightful chip and combining with Robben out right, providing the Bayern Munich winger a glorious opportunity which he proceeded to waste. The Dutch were lacking a clinical touch but in their dominance there seemed little to fear and thus it came very much against the run of play when the Danes took a 24th minute lead. Simon Poulsen, making one of many darts forward from his fullback position, drilled a cross into van der Wiel deep in the Dutch half, with a touch of fortune the ball broke straight to Michael Krohn-Dehli in space on the edge of the box, he still had a great deal of work left but completed it with aplomb; deceiving the remaining Dutch defenders with a drop of the shoulder and firing low, between Stekelenburg’s legs.
Resolute Danish defending frustrates disjointed Dutch
Having van Bommel and de Jong sit deep in midfield allowed the Netherlands to largely null the threat posed by the likes of Bendtner and Eriksen. It didn’t however, help maintain possessional dominance where they could make it count. Despite having the greater share of the ball overall, the Dutch failed to sustain a period of dominance high up the field at any stage in the game, their attacks were short and sharp, which, without the expected end quality, made them ineffective. Perhaps a figure like Strootman to help out creatively from the base of midfield may have allowed for a more measured approach; allowing the Oranje to sit further up, work the ball and pick holes in the Danish defence. In switching de Jong for van der Vaart, a fully attack minded player with goals in him, rather than someone who could dominate the midfield as well as create, van Marwijk can perhaps be criticised – it was an understandable gamble knowing that 2 goals were needed, but on the basis of the play up until that point, arguably the wrong decision.
As the match progressed the Dutch looked increasingly less fluid in attack and somewhat panicky under pressure. They had a wonderful opportunity to equalise late in the first half as Andersen gifted Robben the ball. With a man advantage and most notably Van Persie in acres of space it seemed certain the Dutch would draw level, but, attempting to convert the chance himself, Robben instead found the woodwork. Time after time Robben cut in from the right, but through smart positioning was forced to either pass or see his shots fly high and wide. Failing to learn, he kept choosing the latter option and continually failed to threaten the Danish goal. Van Persie, devoid of the technique that’s seen him so influential at Arsenal this season, pulled shots wide and slipped at crucial moments, had he been his usual self, it must be said, the Dutch would surely have won. Despite his poor club form this season, the Netherlands’ best chances often stemmed from the work of Wesley Sneijder. One of the best opportunities fell to Huntelaar shortly after his introduction. In bringing down a stunning outside of the foot through-ball from Sneijder, he was able to make a rare break through the fantastic partnership of Agger and Kjaer at the heart of the Danish defence, but, like those before him, was unable to apply the finishing touch.
Danes working from the back
As the Dutch wingers attempted to press high up, the Danes did a good job of exploiting the space in the wide areas behind. Kvist and Zimling at the base of the Danish midfield, unfaltering under the pressure, came short and collected from the defence time and again, it was their spreading of the play that allowed the exploitation of the space in behind. One of SFG’s young picks for the tournament, Jetro Willems, became the youngest player to ever feature at a European Championships and generally did a very good job of dealing with Rommedahl’s pace on the right side of the Danish attack, but on the opposite side, van der Wiel struggled to cope with Poulsen and Krohn-Dehli, the latter having a couple of notable attempts aside from his goal.
There’s no denying the Dutch were somewhat unfortunate on the day, not only with the break of the ball for the goal, but also in 2 strong handball penalty claims they had turned away. However, having spurned chance after chance they must take the brunt of the blame themselves. The tournament is not yet over for them and it may be worth noting they famously began their 1988 campaign with a loss. With the right approach, it’s clear they possess the quality going forward to terrorise any defence, but now needing results against the likes of Portugal and Germany, their chances of progression have taken a huge hit. The Danes however, confidence boosted by the win, will now surely be eyeing a very conceivable route out of the group and possibly further.