Netherlands 2 Denmark 0

Netherlands: Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronkhorst; De Jong (De Zeeuw 88), Van Bommel; Kuyt, Sneijder, Van der Vaart (Elia 67); Van Persie (Afellay 77)

Denmark: Sorensen; Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S Poulsen; C Poulsen, Enevoldsen (Gronkjaer 56); Kahlenberg (Eriksen 73), Jorgensen, Rommedahl; Bendtner (Beckmann 62)

The Netherlands overcame a resilient Denmark side in Johannesburg this afternoon with an own goal from Daniel Agger and a late strike from Dirk Kuyt setting them well on their way to qualification for the last 16 despite a patchy performance at Soccer City.

Although Arjen Robben was left out having just recovered from a thigh injury, Bert van Marwijk set his team up in the expected 4-2-3-1 with Nigel de Jong and Mark Van Bommel anchoring the midfield and Dirk Kuyt and Rafael Van der Vaart starting on the right and left flanks respectively.

Morten Olsen’s side adopted a similar shape, deploying Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner as the lone forward supported by Martin Jorgensen through the middle and Thomas Kahlenberg and Dennis Rommedahl from the wide areas.

The defining feature of the early stages of the first-half was the excellent movement of the Dutch forwards, with Kuyt and Van der Vaart switching sides on occasion and busily cutting inside. Robin Van Persie, running the line by himself, showed himself to be particularly adept at dropping into the left-hand channel and linking with Van der Vaart, allowing Wesley Sneijder to come from deep and pile pressure on the Danish defence.

However, the intelligence of the Oranje was matched by some equally smart defending from the Scandinavians, the centre-half pairing on Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger sitting deep and dealing effectively with the central threats of Van Persie and Sneijder, whilst full-backs Lars Jacobsen and Simon Poulsen impressively prevented Van der Vaart and Kuyt from causing any damage when they made their regular runs inside. As the half wore on, van Marwijk’s men clearly became increasingly frustrated with their lack of penetration, the central channels becoming increasingly crowded and their attacking plan confused as the half-time hiatus approached.

Denmark’s own attacking play was relatively limited during the first 45, with Olsen’s team restricted to hitting long diagonal balls to Bendtner for the majority of the half, only finding their feet after half an hour and starting to  counter-attack to good effect, forcing the Dutch full-backs to check their forward runs and drawing some cynical challenges out of the likes of Nigel de Jong as they threatened to stretch the defence.

Unfortunately for the Danes, their hard work was completely undone through a disastrous own-goal shortly after the start of the second period which saw Simon Poulsen’s poor defensive header cannon off Agger and beyond the stranded Thomas Sorensen. It was a crushing blow to Morten Olsen who had seen his side really grow into the game and start to ask questions of their illustrious opponents. In response to going behind the Danish coach brought Thomas Enevoldsen, a defensive midfielder, off and replaced him with Jesper Gronkjaer introduced to add to the team’s attacking options.

Clearly unimpressed with his side’s lack of cutting edge, van Marwijk threw on Eljero Elia, Hamburg’s flying winger, to offer more natural width, shifting Wesley Sneijder into his more familiar playmaking role in the process. The former FC Twente player had an instant impact, getting the better of Jacobsen on several occasions, doing all the work for Kuyt’s goal and highlighting just how much the Dutch had missed the incisive running and imagination of Robben.

As the game moved towards its conclusion the Dutch began to see the same high levels of possession they had enjoyed in the early stages, the Danes failing to press with any conviction in the midfield and lacking an attacking focal point following the removal of the half-fit Bendtner with half and hour left to play.

It was left to Dirk Kuyt to secure victory five minutes from time, neatly capping a solid if creatively underwhelming Dutch performance. It wasn’t the astounding football many had expected from the Oranje, but it’s a positive start to the tournament for a team that hopes to be a serious contender come the business end of the competition.

The Equaliser’s Man of the Match:

Rafael Van der Vaart (Netherlands) – The Real Madrid midfielder was his team’s most creative influence for much of the game, overshadowing a surprisingly quiet Wesley Sneijder and providing an intelligent and bright performance from both wide on the left and through the middle.