Agger (og) 46, Kuyt 85
In a quiet first half, Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner came closest to scoring, but he headed Dennis Rommedahl’s cross wide after the ball was delivered just behind him. It took barely 40 seconds of the second half for the deadlock to be broken and it came in bizarre fashion. Robin van Persie crossed from the left and Danish left-back Simon Poulsen made a mess of his attempted clearance, directing his header off teammate Daniel Agger’s back and inside his own post. Just five minutes later, van Persie had a glorious chance for a second after a loose pass from Simon Kjaer, but his first touch was poor when in acres of space and Thomas Sorensen was smartly out to gather the ball.
Sorensen was much the busier goalkeeper, having to make a smart save after Rafael van der Vaart’s misdirected flicked pass for Sneijder arrowed towards his top corner. He was twice called into action after 73 minutes, first having to punch clear Eljero Elia’s dangerous cross, then pushing Mark van Bommel’s shot round his post. From the resulting corner, van Persie put a free header wide. Sneijder saw a deflected shot clip the top of the bar in the 82nd minute, cutting in from the right and hitting a left footed effort via Daniel Agger’s head.
The Dutch made sure of victory with five minutes remaining. Substitute Elia pushed the ball beyond the outrushing Sorensen only to see it come back off the post, but Kuyt was on hand to prod the rebound home. Moments later Simon Poulsen cleared from under his own crossbar after Afellay stabbed goalward from six yards.
With flying winger Arjen Robben carrying a hamstring injury, Bert van Marwijk opted for van der Vaart as his replacement on the Dutch left. Whilst van der Vaart is a senior member of the squad with vast international experience, he is more of a like-for-like replacement for playmaker Sneijder than Robben. This proved problematic for the Netherlands early on, with van der Vaart drifting in to Sneijder’s territory rather than providing genuine width. Considering Kuyt on the opposite flank is not a natural winger, there was too often a tendency for the Dutch to play through the congested middle. This suited Denmark who were happy to get bodies behind the ball and left Holland with few chances to test Sorensen early on. Sneijder and van der Vaart soon switched positions but it had little impact other than to remove Sneijder’s two-footed prowess in front of goal.
The game took half an hour to begin to open up, largely due to a lack of ambition to get forward from the Danes. With Bendtner somewhat isolated up front, it was not until the latter stages of the first half that Denmark allowed themselves to push forward. With the ageing Danish wingers beginning to make runs down the channels, Stekelenburg was tested for the first time by Rommedahl. It was an understandable tactic by Morten Olsen’s side, with a draw a perfectly acceptable result against group favourites the Netherlands. Denying the Dutch space early on with solid defensive foundations before easing into a slightly more adventurous game helped them to go in goalless at half time, with Bendtner having come closest to breaking the deadlock.
After just over an hour, Olsen appeared to wave the white flag, replacing his main goal threat Bendtner with Mikkel Beckmann. The Arsenal striker has been carrying a knock before the game and the ice packs were straight out from the physios, but it was the failure to replace him with a natural forward that signalled an admission of defeat at 1-0. Soren Larsen and the highly experienced Jon Dahl Tomasson were options available to Olsen but he opted instead for winger Beckmann, leaving nothing for the multitude of Danish widemen to target in the penalty area. It left a setup akin to that which worked so poorly for Australia in their capitulation against Germany on Sunday and denied Denmark the chance to claim at least a point against a below-par Dutch side.
After the flying start made to Euro 2008 by the Netherlands, it was a frustratingly abject team performance. The Dutch created few clear cut chances, and those they did craft were wasted by poor control and poor finishing. Had Denmark not gifted them a goal straight after half time, we might have seen more urgency by van Marwijk’s side, but they were able to remain patient in their search for a second goal. The introduction of Elia made a difference to the team, with his natural desire to run at the fullback coming much closer to replacing Robben than van der Vaart or Sneijder managed, and it was little surprise that he was instrumental in the clinching goal.
Netherlands – Stekelenburg – van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst – van Bommel, de Jong, Sneijder, van der Vaart (Elia 67), Kuyt – van Persie (Afellay, 77)
Denmark – Sorensen – Kjaer, Agger, Jacobsen, Poulsen – Poulsen, Jorgensen, Kahlenberg (Eriksen 72), Envoldsen (Gronkjaer 56) – Bendtner (Beckmann 62), Rommedahl