A Daniel Agger own goal and Dirk Kuyt’s late winner earned the Netherlands a deserved 2-0 win over Denmark at Johannesburg’s Soccer City as the Dutch took an early lead in Group E and stretched their long unbeaten run.
Oranje coach Bert van Marwijk had sprung a pre-match surprise with the inclusion of Arjen Robben as a substitute and the early stages could certainly have done with the Bayern Munich winger’s pace and trickery. With Soccer City bathed in afternoon sunshine, the players took some time to establish the expected tempo, and the best efforts of a tight opening 20 minutes came through two hugely ambitious and off-target free-kicks from Wesley Sneijder and Thomas Enevoldsen.
Neither side were doing themselves justice at this stage but, of the two, it was the Netherlands who were displaying the greater attacking intent, with Rafael van der Vaart proving a lively deputy for the sidelined Robben. Twice in as many minutes midway through the half, the Real Madrid midfielder turned neatly on the edge of the box to fashion scoring opportunities, but on each occasion was unable to find the target.
Thomas Sorensen, fit again after suffering a dislocated elbow, endured a heart-stopping moment shortly after when he fumbled a tame-looking Dirk Kuyt shot only to recover the ball at the second attempt. The Dutch would have been worthy of a goal at this stage, but their failure to convert territorial dominance into goals threatened to cost them dearly as half-time approached.
The warning signs had been there when, with 28 minutes played, Nicklas Bendtner found space at the back post to head wastefully wide from a measured Dennis Rommedahl cross. Rommedahl himself tried his luck soon after, firing straight at Maarten Stekelenburg at the end of a lightning Danish break, while Thomas Kahlenberg provided the best effort of the half with a flashing left-foot shot that forced a terrific save from the Dutch No1.
However, it is not for nothing that Van Marwijk’s side came into this match on a record 19-match unbeaten sequence, and they took a deserved lead within a minute of the second half commencing. Robin van Persie was the goal’s architect, beating Sorensen to a through ball before curling over an inviting cross which Simon Poulsen, in his attempts to clear, headed across goal, but crucially against the back of Agger and into the net.
The Danes nearly self-destructed again four minutes later when a misplaced pass allowed Van Persie a clear sight of goal, but the Arsenal forward hesitated and Sorensen smothered bravely. Van der Vaart then came close an early contender for goal of the tournament with an audacious flick matched only in quality by Sorensen’s agile save, while Sneijder rattled the crossbar with a deflected 25-yard shot.
The Dutch were not to be denied, however, and their continued superiority was rewarded with five minutes remaining when Dirk Kuyt slotted home from close range after substitute Eljero Elia’s initial effort had struck the post. The bounce of the ball had again favoured the Oranje, but there could be no Danish complaints about a result that is sure to enhance their Group E rivals’ standing as genuine FIFA World Cup™ contenders.