Holland 0-1 Denmark: Danes blow group wide open
Holland were unable to find their way through a determined Danish team, who nicked both a goal and the points to record a big upset.
The Netherlands’ defensive preparations were disrupted by an injury to Joris Mathijsen, who was replaced by Ron Vlaar. Otherwise, the usual 4-2-3-1 was deployed, with left-back Jetro Willems becoming the youngest ever Euro player, and Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong providing a solid base for the attacking four. Robin Van Persie was preferred over Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The Danes, too, were more or less as expected. Stephan Andersen started in goal due to Thomas Sorensen’s injury, the creative centre-back partnership of Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger were protected by a double pivot of Niki Zimling and William Kvist, and Christian Eriksen played in and around Nicklas Bendtner up front.
Danish left flank a battleground
With Simon Poulsen a semi-converted winger – originally a winger, though he’s spent all season at left-back – and Dutch right-winger Arjen Robben coming off another excellent season for Bayern Munich, it was suggested before the match that the Danish left-back area would be of particular importance during the match. Whilst this was true, it could arguably be extended to that whole side of the pitch, and the Danes conclusively won that battle. Robben was tracked extremely well by Poulsen, managing to take six shots but only getting one on target. When possession came back to the Danes, Poulsen charged up the field whenever he could, pushing Robben back and taking advantage of the Dutchman’s defensive indiscipline.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, things were developing into something of a stalemate, as Gregory Van der Wiel tried to get forward, only to be tracked by the impressive Michael Krohn-Delhi. When Krohn-Delhi had his chance to attack, he often drifted inside as Poulsen overlapped up the outside, allowing him to escape the clutches of Van der Wiel. Denmark’s supremacy on this flank was reflected by their goal: Poulsen charged upfield with the ball, breezing past Robben as he moved towards the byline. Meanwhile, Krohn-Delhi drifted inside unmarked as Van der Wiel was forced to move onto Poulsen. Poulsen’s deflected cross reached Krohn-Delhi, who jinked inside and shot through Stekelenburg’s legs.
Midfield battle enlivened by Sneijder
The midfield battle was fairly simple: each team with two holders facing one trequartista. With this kind of situation, often it comes down to who uses their spare midfielder better, with one of the two holders tracking the trequartista and the other allowed to roam forward. In this, the Danish had an advantage, with Niki Zimling good on the ball and eager to get forward, in contrast with his Dutch counterparts Van Bommel and De Jong, both of whom are more comfortable sitting in front of their defence. This did, however, mean that they could entirely shut the Danes’ star player, Christian Eriksen, out of the game, despite his good movement. Wesley Sneijder on the other hand managed to escape the clutches of William Kvist often, by dropping out or moving forward away from the zone Kvist was marking. Whilst Sneijder was in that zone, Kvist did admirably, but Sneijder’s movement was excellent and he spent the game dropping away from his markers and dictating play.
With Sneijder completing 71 passes, 10 key passes and six through-balls, one of them an exquisite outside-of-the-foot lofted drive that Huntelaar failed to put away, for all Denmark’s tenacious battling it was at times only due to the Dutch profligacy in front of goal that prevented them from scoring. Robin Van Persie had a poor game, only getting two of his eight shots on target, and his attacking partners Ibrahim Afellay and Robben and replacement Huntelaar were hardly better.
Rommedahl and substitutes
Dennis Rommedahl on the Danish right was given specific instructions and a somewhat specialised role. Up against arguably the Dutch weak link in the inexperienced Willems, he spent the game playing up against him, trying to tempt him into moving forward. Whether Willems’ relative conservatism was a bad move – as Afellay was coming inside and allowing Jacobsen to narrow the Danish defence, leaving acres of space outside him – or a good one, considering Rommedahl’s blistering pace and dangerousness on the counter, is up for debate, but the right flank was a relatively static battle compared to the left. Still, Denmark’s first option on the counter was almost always Rommedahl, who even at 34 years of age had the measure of Willems for pace.
With Denmark trying to kill the game by playing out from the back – in this, the technical ability of Kjaer and Agger was very useful, and Kvist often dropped in between them to help with distribution – Bert Van Marwijk brought on Rafael van der Vaart to replace De Jong and help out Sneijder in attack, and Huntelaar for Afellay. However, all this did was make Holland a worse team. With Sneijder now in a narrow leftish midfield position, he was less of an influence in the game, with he and Van Persie getting in each others’ way. With Holland’s best attacking threat somewhat stifled, Morten Olson brought on Lasse Schone for Rommedahl to provide more defensive stability, and Denmark rode out most of the remaining threats comfortably.
Denmark did everything right: they defended well both as a team and individually – especially performances by Poulsen, Kvist, Krohn-Delhi, the centre-back pairing and the goalkeeper Andersen – but they were helped by a profligate Dutch side. Many Dutch players didn’t have good games individually, such as Robben and Van Persie, but as Holland got more and more desperate, the attacking combinations they used broke down. Robben ended the game trying to single-handedly take on the entire Danish defence, and only Sneijder really acquitted himself well with an assured masterclass of offensive positioning and creativity from midfield.
Make no mistake, the Dutch dominated this game and Denmark occasionally rode their luck, but the Danes were good value for their win. As Van Marwijk said after the match, “We knew exactly that they were going to play that way, building up with [Simon] Kjaer and [Daniel] Agger playing far apart. Everybody could see that we knew. They had no secrets, but same goes for us.” The Dutch knew what to expect, but they failed to prepare and didn’t have an effective Plan B when their primary method proved ineffective. The Danish, on the other hand, had a game plan and executed it perfectly. When you take into account the fact that they had no real creative outlet – on that note, Eriksen needs to learn quickly in a group filled with team with good defensive midfield units – it is even more impressive, and the Danes will now believe it possible to qualify, despite being the weakest team in the traditional Euro ‘group of death’.