Not for the first time at a major tournament, the Netherlands go into the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ among the favourites, though the Oranje have to kick off their Group E campaign against a tough-looking Denmark side on 14 June. Having so often boasted a world-class squad, only to fail to fulfil their potential due to internal squabbles or over-confidence, will the Dutch contingent get it right this time?
The Netherlands may have the edge on Denmark in terms of big-name performers, but the two sides’ head-to-head record makes for interesting reading. The pair boast two wins apiece from five competitive matches, the Dutch scoring ten goals to the Danes’ nine, while each tasted success in the 1988 and 1992 editions of the UEFA European Championship respectively.
The teams also share a lengthy list of injury concerns, with Danish Dynamite boss Morten Olsen, himself has laid low by flu for several days, having to do without key striker Nicklas Bendtner (groin strain) and facing doubts over keeper Thomas Sorensen (elbow) and defenders Simon Kjaer (knee) and Patrick Mtiliga (thigh). His Dutch opposite number Bert van Marwijk will be unable to call on Bayern winger Arjen Robben, who has a hamstring injury, although he does have a top-class replacement available in Real Madrid midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.
On top of his walking wounded, Danish coach Olsen will also be concerned about 1-0 warm-up defeats by Australia and host nation South Africa on June 1 and June 4 respectively, though the Danes did sink Senegal 2-0 on May 27. The Dutch, for their part, have not been beaten since a September 2008 friendly reverse against the Socceroos, though should hold few surprises for their opponents. Indeed, five Denmark players ply their trade in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie and another four share a dressing room with Dutch players at their Premier League clubs.
Players to watch
Daniel Agger v Robin van Persie
The two players experienced mixed fortunes in English football this campaign, with Daniel Agger a solid presence for Liverpool despite the Reds ending a disappointing season down in seventh spot. Meanwhile, Van Persie’s lengthy injury absence was undoubtedly a key factor in Arsenal’s inability to finish higher than third.
It was the Gunners who won the clubs’ head-to-head meetings in 2009/10, 2-1 at Anfield and 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium, though Van Persie missed both of those games. More relevant, therefore, is the fact that the quicksilver Dutch striker scored the last time the two players faced off, in a 1-1 draw in December 2008.
19 – Van Marwijk’s side come into South Africa 2010 on the back of a record unbeaten run of 19 games, beating their previous mark of 17 set between 2001 and 2003.
What they said
“We have a special kind of arrogance that is one of our strengths. But we shouldn’t let it go too far, otherwise it can become a handicap and we become careless. And when arrogance leads you try to humiliate the opposition, they’ll definitely kick back against it. Right from day one I’ve been trying to get that through to the players,” Bert van Marwijk, Netherlands coach.
“I don’t regard the Netherlands as among the World Cup favourites. They often start off strongly and then suddenly lose a crucial game and crash out. That can always happen when they play a well-organised side, which this time could be Denmark. They are missing their most in-form player, Arjen Robben, and they’re not as strong at the back (as they are going forward),” Dennis Rommedahl, Denmark winger.
Voice of the fans
“The Elftal will finally win the World Cup I have been longing for since 1978, when at the age of 14 I was mesmerised by the Dutch and their dazzling football. Since then every tournament in which the Oranje played has been an emotional rollercoaster of beautiful football and fatal arrogance. But this time it will be different. Come on the Netherlands and win the cup!” FIFA.com User oranjepiet.
Can the outsiders rediscover the spirit of Danish Dynamite and bring the Netherlands’ lengthy unbeaten run to an end? Or will Rommedahl’s dismissal of the Dutch’s chances come back to haunt him?