By: Kier Lymn
Pre tournament optimism of the Netherlands was high, after all the latest generation of Dutch talent is reaching its peak. A lot has been made of the late charge for fitness of star man Arjen Robben. Players such as Robben, Kuyt, Van Persie and Sneijder have been playing at the top level for a number of years and all have experience playing in the latter stages of major competition. They are playing in the peak of their careers. At one extreme, the likes of Giovani Van Bronckhorst and Mark Van Bommel provide the wisdom of old heads who have done it all before whereas less experienced call ups such as Hamburg’s Elijero Elia provide the confidence and drive of youth. So you could say the Oranje have the best chance in years to win the World Cup.
Their first opponents in the sun soaked ‘Soccer City’ stadium in Johannesburg were Denmark, a team who you could argue, are in a similar position to Holland. Perhaps their most notable name at the minute, Nicholas Bendtner, a first choice striker with Arsenal in the EPL, is a fantastic player (or so he likes to tell us) and he could easily provide goals. The Danes other bright prospect is Simon Kjaer, who for now plays
Photo from fOTOGLIF
with Palermo in Italy. The defender has been touted around some of England’s biggest clubs including Manchester United. This added to the experience of Rommedahl and Christian Poulsen also gives Denmark a good balance and meant they would be no pushovers. Naturally, most onlookers fancied the Dutch here even without the influential Robben, who wasn’t risked, as they are among the favourites to win the whole thing. However they were by no means over whelming favourites.
It is probably fair to say that the opening half of this one was rather stale. Both Denmark and Bert Van Marvijk’s charges appeared rather cautious. Wesley Sneijder tried to feed his reputation of providing stunning long range goals by shooting on site, hoping Thomas Sorensen would join the list of keepers at this tournament to let the much talked about ‘Jabulani’ ball get the better of them. He didn’t. For Denmark, Thomas Enevoldsen of Groningen in the Netherlands also cannoned the ball in the general direction of the goal. Ten minutes in Dirk Kuyt fired at Sorensen but the shot was never going to trouble the experienced keeper.
It took the Dutch half an hour to get their game going, confidently stroking the ball around on the field. The enterprising Van der Vaart and Robin Van Persie combined to launch strikes over the bar. There was a sense something was building in this game. What was building was a brief forage up field for Denmark, Rommedahl crossing for Bendtner who was ineffective with his header. This preceded another strike from Rommedahl and then the Danes best chance of the half as Bendtner played in Thomas Kahlenberg, Ajax keeper Steckelenberg equal to it, turning it behind. From the resulting corner Rommedahl takes an air born swing at the cross which strongly reflects the half, lots of intention but not enough product.
Who would have thought then that the breakthrough was as close as the first minute of the second period? As Van Persie crosses deep in first Oranje attack of the half, Simon Poulsen provides the limpest of clearances which hits the net off the back of Agger. It goes down as and Agger own goal but the rye smile on Poulsen’s face says it all. He is rightly embarrassed and the Netherlands have the lead. The goal seemed to have chipped a large slice from Denmark’s confidence and Van Persie goes close when the angle was too tight for him to convert past Sorensen. From this point on, the Netherlands always looked like scoring again, especially when PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Affelay and the much hyped Elia were introduced. Elia provided much needed invention and pace and it was he who often engineered himself into space to create a chance for the Dutch. Sneijder perhaps thought he had wrapped it up when his deflected shot hit the top of the bar.
As it happened the Dutch did not have to wait too long to wrap up the game. Elia again lost his marker to be played in with a sweet pass from Sneijder and he is almost celebrating as his shot beats Sorensen only for it to come back off the post and Kuyt to tap in. It was a shame for Elia who more than deserved his first world cup goal, the bigger picture was that Holland had won their opening world cup match in comfortable fashion. It could have been three in the dying moments as Simon Poulsen cleared spectacularly off the line from Affelay.
On reflection it never looked like The Netherlands hit top gear against the Danes. The lack in pace was probably what Robben would usually bring to the game but with their star man due to return, perhaps against Japan, the Oranje have a lot more to offer. Sure, they were not as impressive as the Germans but don’t you dare dismiss them as favourites, after all its three points from three for the Netherlands. Denmark on the other hand was just disappointing.
A keen football writer, Kier Lymn is a 21 year old graduate of a Journalism degree at the University of Lincoln in England. He is a supporter of three football teams; Leicester City FC in England’s Football League Championship, FC Barcelona in Spain and Dundee United in Scotland. His favoured area of football writing is Spanish football as he is an avid admirer of Spanish culture.
Aside from football, Lymn is an Amusements Journalist, writing about the ins and outs of the theme park industry on his blog ‘Out&Back’.