Agger (og) 46, Kuyt 85
The Netherlands failed to live up to expectations in a pedestrian victory over Denmark at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. However, they did show flashes that will make them dangerous in the World Cup.
It really was a tale of two halves, as Holland – devoid of genuine pace on the wing struggled in the first 45 minutes. They were then gifted a lead, courtesy of Simon Poulsen’s own-goal (via Daniel Agger) just after the restart, followed by a Dirk Kuyt tap-in five minutes from the end.
The Dutch came into the game without their mercurial winger Arjen Robben – injured in a warm-up friendly win over Hungry. They shuffled the starting line-up, with Rafael van der Vaart coming into the left-hand side of midfield. One problem with this was the fact that van der Vaart prefers to play more centrally and tended to drift into that position, almost getting in Wesley Sneijder’s way many times throughout the first half. The two Dutchmen swapped positions intermittently, with Sneijder looking particularly uncomfortable down the left. It was to the detriment of the side that Robben was missing. The introduction of the exciting Eljero Elia gave Holland the width and pace that they desperately needed. The Hamburg man looked lively in his debut World Cup appearance, his pace and precise crossing troubled the Danish defence and it was his shot that led to the second goal, when Kuyt latched on to the rebound.
Denmark started the game really well and had much the better of the chances early on. The pick of the bunch came when Nicklas Bendtner directed a header just wide from close range. Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg produced two great saves from Dennis Rommedahl and Thomas Kahlenberg. However, the Danes struggled to get any service to Bendtner in the second half, who became isolated as a result. The Arsenal man was later substituted and they continued to lack a genuine goal threat. One positive they can take out of this was the fact they were very disciplined in their setup and were hard to break down initially. A lack of cutting edge in front of goal will be a concern to Morten Olsen’s team – it looks to be their Achilles heel in their bid to progress past the group stages.
As for Netherlands it wasn’t the type of performance that will make people sit up and take notice, however, it was an astute performance that can be built upon as the tournament progresses. Bert Van Marwijk is a pragmatic Coach that knows the danger of peaking too early. It was Marco Van Basten’s adventurous line-up at Euro 2008 that thrashed Italy and France, yet limped out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage. History shows winners start off slowly and Van Marwijk certainly has the talent at his disposal – Robben (when fit), van Persie, Sneijder and van der Vaart – to trouble the world’s best teams, as they kick it up a notch later on.