Counter-attacking football beats possession football, despite the latter coming from the "better" side. And not for the first time. Russia, despite their mostly overwhelming superiority, did similar yesterday.
This being a Liverpool blog, I'd be tempted to make a tenuous analogy regardless of circumstances, but Liverpool fans have definitely seen this before. If you waste multiple chances, you will not win matches. Sometimes it really is that simple.
It certainly didn't look that way after the first 20 minutes. Holland were dominant, creating chance after chance after chance, with Denmark pinned back and broken into half by Eriksen's inability to link attack and defense. But Denmark took its one chance against the run of play, created by Poulsen bombing forward and a tremendous shift, burst, and shot from Krohn-Dehli. That goal made it much easier for Denmark's 4-2-1-3 to soak up Holland's fairly orthodox, expected 4-2-3-1. It didn't matter if Eriksen failed to link play or if Holland dominated possession. Denmark took its chance and took the lead and Holland wasted its opportunities to reply for the next 65 minutes.
Unsurprisingly, van Persie and Robben were the worst offenders.
Afellay was the only other player with more than three shots today, sending all five of his off target. Comparatively, Krohn-Dehli – Denmark's goal-scorer and only player who attempted more than one shot – put all three of his on target. Again, it's a simple game, this.
Of course, despite Holland's 32 shots on goal, some credit has to go to the Danish defense. Denmark attempted 17 tackles, all successful – Kjaer 4/4, Agger 3/3, Poulsen 3/3, among others; only Rommedahl and Kvist were outfield starters who didn't attempt a tackle – compared to Holland's 10 attempted, six successful.
Despite the failures of Holland's star attackers, van Marwijk deserves as much criticism following this loss. Holland were predictable; Denmark knew what was coming and were able to nullify it. Agger and Kjaer ensured most of van Persie's shots were contested under pressure. Poulsen was immense at left-back, fully aware of Robben's one-track mind and one-track style of play. Afellay and Robben's failure to track back allowed Denmark's fullbacks to get forward while restraining Holland's. And, most unforgivably, van Marwijk waited far too long to make changes, replacing Afellay with Huntelaar and van der Vaart with De Jong in the 70th minute. By then, Holland's frustration was tangible through the television. Huntelaar had one good opportunity immediately, unsurprisingly set up by Sneijder, but Andersen made the save after the striker split the centerbacks, and Holland were reduced to fairly nonthreatening half-chances and pleading for a debatable but not given handball penalty.
And Denmark did this with a fairly mediocre performance from their most-lauded player. As said above, Christian Eriksen was mostly irrelevant. But it didn't matter when Simon Poulsen, Agger, Kjaer, and Krohn Dehli were four of the five best players on the pitch.
Wesley Sneijder was the fifth, the hub of anything good from those in orange. In comparison to Eriksen, playing in a similar role until van Marwijk's substitutions with 20 minutes to play, Sneijder was brilliant between the lines. The attacking midfielder created 10 chances – no player created more in a Euro match in the last 32 years – and does not deserve to be on the losing side today. But van Persie and Robben sure do. And we've learned by now that chances created mean very, very, very little when they're not finished.
This leaves Holland a mountain to climb in order to qualify for the knockout rounds. We'll know much more after Germany face Portugal – my two favorites for qualification before the tournament started – later today, but this is most likely a mortal wound for the Netherlands.
However, Denmark, obviously, are in the best possible position after beating the Netherlands (without needing a shootout) for the first time since 1967. Both Germany and Portugal should present more problems than today's opposition, but – 20 years after the country's unlikely European Championship – Denmark couldn't have hoped for a better start to this tournament.