Much had been said about the absence of Arjen Robben in the run-up to the Oranje's opening fixture at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Nevertheless the 2-0 win over Denmark provided clear evidence that Van Marwijk has enough options at his disposal. Substitute Eljero Elia, in particular, staked a strong claim for a starting berth, laying the groundwork for the all-important second goal.
Before Robben's injury the debate in the Dutch camp had centred on whether, and if so how, the "Big Four" of Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie could play together. Recently Van Marwijk has opted not to go with Van der Vaart, preferring to deploy Dirk Kuyt on the right flank instead. Kuyt is generally considered a better defender than any of the aforementioned quartet, and the Netherlands coach feels he gives his side a better balance.
It is a fantastic problem to have and Robben's injury has solved it, at least temporarily. Kuyt worked the right-hand side against the Danes, while Van der Vaart was asked to attack down the left, though he frequently swapped positions with Sneijder and Van Persie. And with Van der Vaart constantly drifting across into the middle, too much of the Netherlands' play was directed down the right.
The Netherlands laboured for long periods against a Denmark team who defended with great resolve and intelligence, relying entirely on counter-attacks until an unfortunate 46th minute own goal by Simon Poulsen gave the Dutch the lead they craved. "It became a lot easier after the goal because we finally had more space," Van Marwijk told FIFA after the game. In an instinctive move he then introduced Elia for Van der Vaart on 67 minutes, a switch that added much-needed vitality to the Dutch left.
The 23-year-old threatened for the first time within minutes after coming on, embarking on a forceful run down the flank into the penalty box that Denmark just about managed to contain. "I didn't really expect to play, but it was in the back of mind, of course," said Elia. On arriving from Twente Enschede he impressed for Hamburg in the first half of his debut Bundesliga season until an injury restricted him to just seven below-par performances after the winter break.
At the Soccer City Stadium, however, he rekindled memories of his form in autumn 2009, when he left defender after defender trailing in his wake. Collecting a superb pass from Sneijder in the left channel, he burst into the penalty area and dispatched a considered shot towards the far corner. The ball rebounded back of the post, but Kuyt was on hand to slot home the decisive second goal five minutes from time. "I'm delighted with what has been a fantastic World Cup debut. And I'm really happy that I was able to do my bit for the win," Elia added.
Van der Vaart, who had a reasonable game before making way for Elia, hailed his team-mate's performance, saying: "That was a great debut for him. He had made one very decisive contribution and could even have scored the goal himself. He gives us more attacking options."
Van Marwijk was delighted with his decision to introduce Elia. "I'm pleased I decided to take him," he said. "He brought much more life to our play in the second half and did what I hoped of him." Robben's expected return for the second game against Japan is likely to add to Van Marwijk's selection headaches, though Elia is not staking any claims. "I can't make any demands yet. I hope to get another chance and if I do maybe I can help to make some more goals." The Dutch clearly mean business in South Africa.