Van der Wiel Heitinga Mathijsen Van Bronckhorst
Van Bommel De Jong
Kuyt Sneijder Van der Vaart
S Poulsen (og) 46’
Okay, so it wasn’t a "classic," but it did entertain as both teams lived up to the tactical hype. Holland was the better side, but a 2-0 scoreline’s harsh on the Danes, especially since the opener came from a fluke own goal, the first of the tournament.
Denmark’s defense set the first half tone, allowing Holland its customary possession but ensuring very little of it came in the final third. The Dutch were restricted to a smattering of shots from distance, with Kuyt’s 10th-minute effort the lone to test the keeper. Van der Vaart and Sneijder both saw a lot of the ball, but with a packed midfield packed further by Van der Vaart and Sneijder (and Kuyt’s) proclivity to cut inside, the central pairing of Agger and Kjaer were able to mop up absolutely everything (hint, hint Liverpool).
Meanwhile, Denmark slowly but surely gained a foothold, creating chances with Dutch players caught up the field. The best of the first 45 unsurprisingly came on the break, with Rommedahl lofting a floating cross that Bendtner narrowly headed wide in the 27th. In addition, Stekelenburg had to smother Rommedahl's shot after Jorgensen found him with a lovely cross-field diagonal and palm away Kahlenberg’s blast after Bendtner's pivot and through ball.
But calamity struck less than a minute into the second half. De Jong’s wonderful ball over the top fell to van Persie's feet after a clever run. Although the striker was pushed wide, he still found space to send in a teasing cross that Poulsen somehow headed onto Agger’s back, disastrously redirecting it inside the far post. I’m still surprised FIFA credited the own goal to Poulsen – it doesn’t hit Agger, it doesn’t go in – but I’d rather a Liverpool player not have that blot (plus, I’ve got money on Carragher scoring Liverpool’s first own goal).
Denmark did well to restrict Holland’s possession after the goal – it was 60/40 in the first half and a lot closer to 50/50 in the second – but they created fewer chances as Netherlands were happy to hold what they had. Unlike the first 45, all the best opportunities came from Clockwork Orange, with Sorensen saving well from van Persie, van der Vaart, van Bommel, and Sneijder (the latter aided by a wicked definition from that man Agger again; he’s had a terrible streak of luck, whether injuries or deflections, but was probably Denmark’s best player today).
But in the 85th minute, Kuyt – yes, Kuyt – iced the game. Sneijder played a delicious through ball for the on-rushing Elia, whose shot eluded Sorensen only to ricochet off the foot of the post. Once again, Kuyt’s there for the rebound, taking advantage of Kjaer giving up on the ball. He has an absolutely supernatural sense for rebounds, and it’s worth noting that his strike came less than six minutes after moving up front. ‘A nose for goal’ doesn’t come close to sufficing.
And it should have been three less than three minutes later, only to see Simon Poulsen make amends for his earlier error by replicating Cannavaro’s heroics from that recent Nike commercial. Kuyt got down the left to send in a cross that Afellay reached first, poking towards goal, but Poulsen somehow got back to bicycle the shot off his goal line. Jaw-dropping. Don’t let anyone tell you this was a boring match.
If the Danes ignore the result – which is obviously hard to do in a World Cup – both sides lived up to expectations. Denmark is a well-organized side led by two tremendous center backs in Agger and Kjaer. Sorensen’s probably taken Reina’s title as the most underrated keeper in the Premiership. With a firm foundation, they can make sides pay if Bendtner and Rommedahl (and Tomasson off the bench) convert chances.
But Holland is rightfully one of the favorites if they stay defensively solid. In Sneijder, van Persie, van der Vaart, and Robben, they’ve attackers that’d stroll into any side in the world bar Spain and Brazil. Van Bommel and De Jong are excellent holding midfielders; De Jong was simply superb today. And Kuyt plays a key role – I expect him to keep one of the ‘magic quartet,’ probably van der Vaart, out of the side even after Robben’s fit. He’s crucial to protecting van der Wiel’s forays forward, making a fair few necessary defensive tackles and headers today, and once again demonstrated his predatory instinct. I will be howling about how underrated he is even if he leaves Liverpool this summer. (Stop now. I'm not saying he will.)
I’m truly interested to see how Cameroon and Japan fare in the upcoming match. Holland and Denmark should still be odds on favorites to progress, and I think that this match only decided the group winner. Both Cameroon and Japan will find it difficult to break down the Danes (unless Eto’o gets his head right), while the Netherlands just needs to avoid a mental breakdown – which is never outside the realm of possibility.
Either way, I’m still excited to see both of these sides going forward. The World Cup is the best.