The Dutch will be delighted with this result as their performance barely deserved it. The match was delicately poised until an own goal fifty seconds into the second half knocked the wind out of Denmark, and they never really recovered.
Robin Van Persie lead the line for the Netherlands with Wesley Sneijder, the midfield schemer so integral to Inter Milan’s treble-winning season, pulling the strings in midfield. Arjen Robben’s failure to recover from a hamstring injury meant that Dirk Kuyt and Rafael Van Der Vaart filled the wide roles, and Robben’s absence was keenly felt; Holland were laboured in possession, not quick enough to support Robin Van Persie who the Danish defence were closing down with ease.
Sneijder’s contribution was mooted, his first half most notable for two freekicks from 40 yards out. The first was miles over the bar, the second into the foot of the wall. This World Cup has already seen too many hopeful shots from ridiculous range, especially from free kicks.
Denmark lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 though soon after kick off it became apparent that Dennis Rommedahl was not playing through the middle but on the right touchline. A constant outlet when the Danes broke up Dutch attacks, he fashioned their best chance of the first half, his cross curling slightly behind Nicklas Bendtner who couldn’t quite get his header on target.
So the first half repeated a pattern that is becoming familiar in South Africa 2010; one team having the bulk of possession but not really able to do much with it versus another quite happy to let them try. Denmark played their way into the half and were starting to turn the screw in the ten minutes before half time. They might even have gone down the tunnel feeling slightly better than their opponents; they had coped easily enough with the Dutch attack, had created a few chances of their own and were growing in confidence. The second half was going to be interesting.
Unfortunately the second half was only fifty seconds old when Robin Van Persie played a cross in from deep on the left and Simon Poulsen rose to head clear. Unfortunately the precise geometric requirements for a clearing header temporarily eluded him, the ball bouncing off the side of his face, taking a deflection off Daniel Agger before dropping just inside the post. The Netherlands, somehow, were ahead.
Coach Morten Olsen’s gameplan had to be ripped up after less than a minute. Denmark were visibly downcast afterwards except, oddly, for Poulsen himself; replays showed him smiling broadly at his misfortune. Despite their best efforts they were never able to get back into the game.
Bert van Marwijk introduced some pace, Eljiero Elia replacing Van Der Vaart down the left. Sneijder moved over to the left a little to get Elia involved and the two combined well, Elia’s shot tipped onto the post by Thomas Sorenson only for Dirk Kuyt to get to the rebound first and tap home from six yards.
But aside from the goals the second half played out much like the first. As the game drew to a close the TV cameras lingered briefly, wistfully, on Michel Platini talking to Zinedine Zidane, then zoomed in on Arjen Robben’s hamstring. The message was clear, the sentiment shared: if only, eh?
Denmark set up for a 0-0 and never really had a back-up plan should Holland score, so they can have few complaints with the result. They will however bemoan their bad luck and aim to get their tournament back on track against Cameroon on Saturday. The Netherlands played well enough and will be happy to have secured a win with a minimum of effort. Those of us at home, though, continue to wait for the tournament’s first truly decent game of football.