Slow start: After two action-packed matches in group A yesterday, group B began slowly. Holland were calm and composed as they settled into their unhurried rhythm. Their set-up was as usual; Robben and Afellay switching wings and both wing backs pushing up on the overlap. Denmark were unable to achieve any possession in the opening phase of the game, in part through Holland’s dominance, but also due to the Dutch front three pressing very high whenever Andersen had the ball, preventing Denmark from playing out from the back.
Holland dominate possession in the opening 20 minutes
The burden of Dutch creativity: van Marwijk likes two protective midfielders to provide security behind a Total Football-lite front four. Therefore those four players need to be in tune with each other to break down the opposition, as there is little creativity on offer behind them. In the first half, Sneijder and van Persie were almost able to combine, but it wasn’t quite clicking. In his first real opportunity, Robben was released through on goal and inexplicably elected to pass, then at the second time of asking when he picked up a poor Andersen clearance, he chose to shoot when van Persie was free and screaming for the ball. Robben hit the post on this occasion, but it should have been an easier shot for van Persie and a probable goal. It was typical Robben – playing his own game and making poor decisions at every turn.
Denmark touch the ball, score a goal: After 20 minutes of not competing at all in the match, Denmark scored. Simon Poulsen drove forward down the left, but his cross was blocked by van der Wiel. It fell to Krohn-Dehli, who ran at the Holland defence, and Heitinga inexplicably turned his back on the Dane, who was able to run straight in on Stekelenburg and drive the ball through his legs. To say the goal was against the run of play would be an understatement. Krohn-Delhi was the standout player for Denmark, and another driving out-to-in run led to a shot at the far corner which was saved by Stekelenburg.
Krohn-Delhi the only Danish player taking the game to the Dutch
More of the same: No changes were made a half time, as van Marwijk continued with his misfiring lineup. Holland enjoyed another period of dominance directly after the break, yet again failed to test Andersen except for a long range van Bommel strike which should have been a comfortable save until Andersen nearly let it slip through his fingers. It was the tale of the match, Holland’s shooting was wayward at best: van Persie managed only two shots on target, Robben one, and not a single attempt from Sneijder or Afellay tested Andersen.
Netherlands wayward shooting causes little concern for Denmark
Sneijder off form: Save for an excellent throughball to Huntelaar with the outside of his right foot, Sneijder was ineffective. Whether playing in his starting central position, or assuming the inside left role after Huntelaar’s introduction for Afellay, he never really looked like influencing the play or creating a clear cut chance. He improved after moving to the left – the side he had been favouring even when notionally playing in a central role – but that wasn’t a particularly challenging improvement to make over his first half performance. His certainly wasn’t the only below par Dutch performance – Robben was wasteful, van Persie was uncertain, Afellay was peripheral – but as the playmaker Sneijder has the greatest responsibility for creativity and he was lacking.
As noted, Huntelaar was introduced, but he had little effect on proceedings, apart from a handball shout which would have been a tough call on Denmark as the ball came up and hit the defender at point black range. Kuyt came on towards the end to eliminate any remaining chance of Holland snatching an equaliser, which he did with aplomb by fluffing his only chance to cross into a packed area.
Most casual viewers would have expected an easy Holland victory, just as they were also expecting Denmark to be the whipping boys of the group. Both positions were clearly misguided – Denmark outqualified Portugal and Holland are always a team that does things the hard way. The Dutch did dominate, and will surely not be as woeful at shooting in the next match, but van Marwijk needs to abandon his cautious double-pivot if he wants goals. Does he not realise that beautiful failure is the Dutch way?!