As one of the pre-tournament favourites, Holland had a lot to live up to in their opening game against Denmark. Impressing on their way to the World Cup final 2 years ago only to disappoint in the defeat to Spain, even the Holland players may have felt like they had a point to prove. The Danes meanwhile, had been generally written off in most quarters. They would have no chance of progress to the quarter finals in the so-called “group of death” according to most pundits. This was undoubtedly unfair on the Danish squad and perhaps lazy on the part of several pundits who failed to note that Denmark had topped their qualifying group ahead of Group B rivals Portugal. The Danes do have talent of their own and are a modest, well-organised, hard-working unit too.
The game began with a pattern that would follow for large parts of the first half – Holland in possession. They passed, they probed, but they didn’t get into many positions to hurt Denmark. When they did, Robin Van Persie’s finishing could’ve led some to think he was wearing ugg boots rather than football boots, such was the lack of quality and composure shown by the Arsenal striker.
Denmark took the lead in the 24th minute through a well taken Michael Krohn-Dehli strike. They grew in confidence after this and began to have their own share of possession.
Holland did come close when Robben struck the post after a calamitous mistake from Danish ‘keeper Stephan Andersen. This was as close as they came to getting anything from the game. And it was the only time Robben threatened to score.
Stats point to a landslide in Holland’s favour in terms of shots at goal. And the BBC match commentators seemed to imply that the number of shots from the Dutch team meant that they had dominated the match and deserved something from it. I think that is well wide of the mark – much like 90% of the Dutch’s shots incidentally. With closer examination you will see that of Holland’s 29 shots, only 8 were on target. And I would suggest that a large number of those total shots came from Arjen Robben, who seemed intent on shooting every time he had the ball, regardless of where he was on the pitch or whether a team-mate was better placed.
Denmark, on the other hand, were far more efficient with their shooting. They hit the target with 4 of their 8 efforts with one going through the legs of Stekelenburg and into his net.
The main problem I think the Dutch faced was the lack of numbers they had in support of Van Persie. There is no question the quartet of Robben, Afellay, Sneijder and Van Persie is as good a front 4 as you are likely to see in the tournament. But they seemed to be left alone to do all the creative attacking themselves. That often leaves them out-numbered against a well-organised side such as Denmark, who will have a solid midfield barrier protecting the back 4. Van Bommel and De Jong don’t attempt to get forward and support attacks, rarely getting ahead of the ball. Are they both needed in this system? Maybe one of them could make way for a disciplined player who could also do more with the ball. And the full backs need to do more down their relative flanks to offer some width and give the opposition something to think about with players running forward.
Holland immediately looked more threatening when Van der Vaart and Huntelaar came on with 20 minutes to go, as they had more creativity in the deeper midfield area and more support up alongside Van Persie. The ‘Oranje’ could have also had a penalty, when Lars Jacobsen seemed to handle in the Denmark penalty area late on, but a Holland equaliser would have masked a very team poor performance.
The tragedy of this match was that Wesley Sneijder was on the losing side. The Dutch number 10 played some sublime passes that deserved better end results from his team-mates. The finest moment perhaps being a fantastic ball through ball with the outside of his right foot that sent Huntelaar racing through into the box. He saw enough of the ball in the Group B opener, but there needs to be more movement around him from other players and more players getting into the final third for him to pick out.
One thing is for sure – Holland vs Germany on Wednesday is set up to be a cracker.
Picture courtesy of dailyrecord.co.uk