Euro 2012: Netherlands 0-1 Denmark - Oranje crushed
DENMARK are used to it, used to being written off before a ball is even kicked. They have gone on to win this tournament in such circumstances. That was in 1992. Two decades on, they are still defying the odds.
Drawn in the so-called group of death, up against two of the pre-competition favourites, Portugal were deemed the outsiders, Morten Olsen’s men were the ones already designated dead and buried.
Against a Dutch squad packed with household names, the Danes were unperturbed. Unfazed by their opponents’ dominance of possession, and unflustered by the raft of efforts on goal racked up by Bert van Marwijk’s side. While the Oranje hordes swarmed forward, the more profligate they became the more the Danes grew in composure. Decent defending and alert goalkeeping helped keep the likes of Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben at bay. The Dutch were guilty of poor decision making, insipid shooting and a failure to find the target when the likes of Ibrahim Afellay and the tournament’s youngest competitor Jetro Willems let fly.
Throughout the 90 minutes they had 28 attempts on goal, compared to the Danes’ eight but what was telling was that while every one of the Danish efforts forced an intervention from Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stelkenburg, the Netherlands were off target with 20 of their chances. It left them lamenting some bad luck but it should also leave them indulging in some introspection.This was a match they were supposed to win and it was one they should have won. In truth they lacked the energy and urgency and determination displayed by the underdogs and with the tougher proposition of Germany looming large on Wednesday there is now a decent change that the Netherlands might not escape this group.
Even when they threw on Rafael Van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt and combined the attacking prowess of Klaas Jan Huntelaar with Van Persie with 20 minutes of the match remaining, they couldn’t find a way to restore parity let along overhaul Denmark’s surprise lead.
It was an advantage carved out against the run of play. The World Cup finalists started the game comfortably and quickly settled into an easy rhythm but they could not convert that overwhelming dominance into anything more tangible.
Willems, Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder all had a sniff in the first ten minutes, but the best chance fell to the Bayern Munich forward in the 18th minute. From inside the box, Robben tried to square it instead of taking a crack himself. It was wasteful as the defence got back to block. Time and again the Danes smothered the Dutch strikeforce, forcing some wild and silly shots from distance.
And then, with 23 minutes gone, the Netherlands got the shock of their lives. Simon Poulson was the architect, finding his way down the left flank before Michael Krohn-Dehli made the most of his endeavours, picking up the ball on the edge of the box and bursting into the area before unleashing a strike which zipped through the keeper’s legs and into the net.
It was clinical and it was effective and from a team who had qualified with the lowest number of goals. While the Dutch had been gluttonous in their gathering of goals in qualifying, in this match it was their on-field rivals who gave the best demonstration of how to make fleeting opportunities count.
While their coach flapped and hollered on the sidelines though, there was no sense of worry in the Dutch ranks. They kept plugging away and they kept missing the target. Eventually Robben got close, denied only by the post and then in the latter stages the Danish keeper Stephan Andersen, who had been bright all match, was quick to get out and deny first Huntelaar and then Van Persie.
Their efforts perhaps earn them the luck which saw the referee wave away vehement claims for a penalty after Lars Jacobsen twice used his arm as he tried to foil Huntelaar as he tried to bring a high ball down on his chest. That was in the 89th minute and it may have been enough to get the Dutch a draw but, crucially, it would not have salvaged a victory.
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