Danish discipline defeated Dutch drive to pull off a shock victory in the first match in Group B. Despite Netherlands dominating for the vast majority of the match, the Danes held on to record a famous victory following Michael Krohn-Dehli’s well-taken goal as well as tireless defensive work from the Danish back four.
Both Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger were superb at the heart of the Denmark defence to keep the ever-dangerous Robin van Persie frustrated throughout the game. William Kvist and Niki Zimling also provided critical cover as Wesley Sneijder looked to inspire Netherlands onwards.
From the first whistle, Netherlands looked to dictate the play and held possession mainly in the opposition’s half with patient and measured passing. The Danes, on the other hand, appeared content to slow the tempo of the tie and remain positionally disciplined without much freedom offensively.
The first of Netherlands' 32 attempts on goal fell to Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben. The fleet footed winger collected Robin van Persie’s return ball on the right of the box and unselfishly looked to play in Ibrahim Affelay at the far post when he really should have taken the shot on himself.
Firmly against the run of play, Denmark took the lead in the 24th minute. Zimling fought well to win the ball back in the centre of midfield before releasing Simon Poulsen, who had a very good game, down the wing. His deflected cross fell to the feet of Krohn-Dehli, who cleverly shifted the ball from right to left on the edge of the box before slipping the ball through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg for the Danes to grab a one-goal advantage and stun their opponents.
Next followed what was the first of two strong penalty appeals for the Dutch. Following Agger’s headed clearance, the ball bounced inside the area and struck Simon Poulsen on the hand as the spin on the ball caught the left back out. However, to Bert van Marwijk’s surprise, the referee waved away the Dutch appeals.
Following the goal, Denmark gained confidence and began to pass the ball about the pitch, with Simon Poulsen advancing down the left flank and supporting the Danish forwards every time they broke on the counter.
Moments before half-time, a terrible mistake from Stephan Andersen gifted Robben the ball 30 yards out from goal after a dreadful goal kick. The underconfident wide-man easily intercepted the clearance and advanced forwards before bending a wicked effort that struck the foot of the post.
Following the half-time interval, Netherlands quickened their tempo and began to look for more direct and earlier passes. Arsenal’s prolific hitman, Van Persie had two openings within the initial few minutes after the break as the Dutch began to find gaps. The Danes continued to clear their lines and performed as a compact and solid unit defensively, despite almost all of the possession being held by Netherlands inside the Danish half.
Wesley Sneijder continued to provide the Oranje’s main creative spark; however, even with the introduction of Schalke’s 48-goal man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch could not create clear-cut openings for their front two as the famous red and white of Denmark continued to frustrate and overperform.
With just one minute of normal time remaining in the tie, the Dutch continued to pile pressure onto Stephan Andersen’s goal. Lars Jacobsen clearly handled the ball twice inside the box yet, again, referee Damir Skomina refused to point to the spot. Netherlands' bemused coach Van Marwijk said after the game: “It is such a clear penalty, and then you likely get a draw.”
This fixture represented two sides with opposing styles of football. Whilst the Dutch displayed neat and tidy short passing with intricate runs off the ball, it was the Danish discipline, positional awareness and togetherness to guard their goal that eventually resulted in them, perhaps fortunately, taking all three points. Purists may regard their victory as unappealing, but it was a terrific defensive display that should be appreciated and applauded.
Denmark were not expected to make much impact on Group B, which also includes Germany and Portugal, but this performance displays the importance of every side in the competition. Should the Danes take just one point away from their next match against Portugal next Wednesday, the Olsen Gang may be heading towards a very unexpected quarter-final draw.