Netherlands Camp Focus – Elia and Robben key for Oranje to have bright future

The Netherlands got their World Cup campaign in South Africa started with a 2-0 win against Denmark, but Bert van Marwijk’s side were far from convincing and visibly missed the pace in attack provided by injury concern Arjen Robben.

The Danes were organised and the Dutch found it hard to break them down as Rafael van der Vaart was unconvincing in both the playmaker role and in a wide berth. Star man Wesley Sneijder also failed to make his mark on the game and the duo did not work all that well together. However, the Oranje got the rub of the green when Danish defender Simon Poulsen headed Robin van Persie’s cross onto the back of Daniel Agger, which ended up finding the back of Thomas Sorensen’s net.

Denmark had threatened the Netherlands at times and one has to wonder if a better side would have made the Oranje’s defence, which lacks pace, pay for their sluggishness. The rapid Dennis Rommedahl had van Marwijk’s defence on the back foot at times, but Nicklas Bendtner failed to convert any of the crosses into him. At least Bendtner was making the Netherlands’ defence work, however, as Denmark’s attacking threat died when the Arsenal striker was replaced by the disappointing Mikkel Beckmann, which left no height in their attack.

Nevertheless, there were some positives for the Dutch, the most obvious one being the 2-0 victory, and the performance of van Persie was promising despite failing to score any of the half chances that he had got. Young winger Eljero Elia was the brightest spark and if Robben is not ready for the next game then van Marwijk might well start the 23-year-old in the next fixture as the lack of pace was apparent for all to see. Elia’s biggest impact on the game was when he raced onto the end of a through ball and was unlucky not to score as Sorensen tipped the effort onto the post, but luckily for Holland Dirk Kuyt showed his predatory instincts and tapped in from close range as the Danish defenders where slow to react.

Many have tipped Elia as a potential star of the tournament and every time the Hamburg SV player touched the ball the vuvuzuelas of Soccer City in Johannesburg seemed to ring out even louder. The player is very much in the shop window at this tournament despite his insistence that he wishes to say in Germany, but the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will be watching the young wide man very closely.

The Dutch fans will be hoping that their side will be much more entertaining in future games in the competition as the game failed to live up to expectations like the games before it, but van Marwijk’s pragmatic style has helped them be more clinical and the ability to win ugly can be vital, especially in games at such high altitude which may make themselves hard work. Van Marwijk must get his attacking options right ahead of their next game against Japan to attempt to secure the group early and maintain the fitness of his players. He may decide to give van der Vaart another chance in the starting XI, but allowing Elia to run at the Japanese defence may be a much wiser tactic.

The Japanese will likely give the Netherlands a hard time as they are a disciplined side, do not tend to give away much and are fairly negative in their style. The game is also important as it could potentially decide who finishes at the top of the group following Japan’s 1-0 victory over Cameroon in the other fixture in Group E.

Van Marwijk’s side have been tipped by many as a potential dark horse for the tournament, but they will have to do a lot more to convince the punters who have backed them to end their World Cup drought. Many will hope that Robben can get back in as he is the main danger man in their squad and his presence will also benefit their most natural finisher, van Persie, who seemed to get crowded out by Danish defenders at the time. If the winger gets back in, or if Elia continues to make an impact, the wide men stretching the play can do wonders for the like of van Persie and Sneijder as they have so far been starved of time and space.


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