Soccer City was basking in the best that the Johannesburg winter can offer. The stands are brightly coloured in a red-orange combo. There was excitement and expectation in the air. And that’s just about the only positive things we can say about the Netherlands’ win over Denmark. It was 2:0, but we were left thoroughly bored.
While Denmark are a tough, traditionally well-organised European team, albeit lacking in big stars (the biggest of them being Arsenal’s Nicholas Bendtner), the world’s focus today was on Dutch team. The 1974 and 1978 finalists and 1998 semi-finalists, the Dutch went through a generation of very talented but also very moody stars in 2002 and 2006. The current team appears to be a much stronger and more cohesively put together outfit, with plenty of attacking talent in Van Persi, Robben, Snyder and Kuyt.
Denmark is a hard nut to crack on any day, but Monday saw a Dutch team that was not particularly inspired. Yet, they were ready to grind their way through the game, even as Denmark appeared to be the slightly better of the two teams in the first half.
The Second half, however, saw the Danes press self-destruct button in the same way Algeria and Serbia did before them. An innocent-looking cross was headed by Danish central defender Poulsen into the shoulder-blades of his unsuspecting colleague, Liverpool’s Agger, and then into Sorensen’s goal.
The Dutch goal, as accidental as it was, wreaked havoc with the Danish tactics of playing a mostly defensive game with quick counter-attack sorties into the opponents’ territory and they never really recovered, not that they were shining before it anyway.
Apart from winning this hard-fought game, the Dutch could be very encouraged by their newest young talent, Elia, who replaced van den Vaart and brought much-needed urgency to their game. The final goal was the best move of the match, with Snyder brilliantly finding Elia, who quickly check-mated Sorrensen, only to hit the far post. The ball was then simply tapped in by the supreme predator Kuyt.
Photo: Netherlands’ Arjen Robben (R) watches from the bench during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against Denmark at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
All in all, the Netherlands-Denmark game mostly bored us to sleep. But such are the best teams at big tournaments: the Dutch won a tough game by spending just enough energy and without losing any of their stars. And the next time, Robben might be fit to play too.
Here are the minute-by-minute notes:
Netherlands: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Mark van Bommel, Dirk Kuyt, Nigel de Jong, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart
Denmark: Thomas Sorensen, Christian Poulsen, Simon Kjaer, Daniel Agger, Lars Jacobsen, Martin Jorgensen, Nicklas Bendtner, Thomas Kahlenberg, Simon Pulsen, Dennis Rommedahl, Thomas Enevoldsen
Man of the match
It’s been a somewhat uneventful start to the game, with both teams probing each other cautiously. The Danes seem somewhat out of it, with a few back passes to the keeper almost falling at the Dutch strikers’ feet.
- 4th minute: Free kick for the Dutch as Sneijder is brought down about 38m from goal. Sneijder takes the shot, but skies it.
We’ve seen eight games without a single good free kick. Jabulani’s fault?
- 10th minute: First shot at goal from Kuyt, who shoots it right at Sorensen. The Danish keeper fumbles it very badly before recovering.
It seems like keepers are having trouble with saving routine shots. This will hopefully encourage the players to try their luck with shots from as far out as Sandton.
- 12th minute: Hand ball to Wesley Sneijder, just inside his half.
- 14th minute: Bendtner tries to set up a counter-attack, but finds himself isolated and is quickly muscled off the ball. The Danes are going to let the Dutch keep possession, and then rely on counter-attacks to create chances. Good luck with that.
- 16th minute: The Dutch earn their first corner kick, but nothing comes of it. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were attending a training camp instead of a World Cup match. This has not been tantalising football.
- 19th minute: Van Persie sets van der Vaart up for a shot, but a quick Danish defender gets in the way, and the shot goes out the back for a corner.
- 19th minute: Second corner to the Dutch, and again it fizzles out as the Danish defender use his superior height to defend the high ball.
- 20th minute: The first serious chance for the Dutch comes as van Bommel slices a low cross in, but van der Vaart wastes the chance, trying to get away from the flocking Danish defenders.
- 21st minute: Enevoldsen sends a shot from just outside the penalty box into the stratosphere.
The Danes are certainly the less convincing side in terms of attack.
- 26th minute: Rommedahl sends a brilliant cross into the Dutch penalty box, right onto Bendtner’s forehead, who nudges it just wide of the goal. The Dutch defence was certainly caught by surprise.
- 30th minute: De Jong stomps quite savagely on a Danish player’s ankle, but doesn’t get booked for it.
- 30th minute: Free kick to the Dutch from just outside the centre circle. Sneijder fluffs it quite ridiculously.
- 33rd minute: Rommedahl gets the first shot on goal for the Danes after a counter-attack, but shoots it right at the Dutch goalkeeper.
- 34th minute: Jorgensen gets a free kick in a goodish area, but it is wasted as Kahlenberg buries it into the Dutch wall.
- 37th minute: Kahlenberg gets a shot from angle, but it is saved by the Dutch keeper, earning the Danes their first corner. Predictably, it’s a complete waste.
The France vs Uruguay game was more exciting than this, and that is quite an indictment. I’d sooner sit through a Mbeki speech…
- 42nd minute: Van Persie turns a defender several times inside the Danish penalty box, and finally sends a shot off his right foot, which skids harmlessly to the side of the goals.
- 43rd minute: Nigel de Jong gets the first booking of the match after bringing Bendtner down. Finally, an incident.
End of the first half, thank God.
46th minute: Poulsen scores an own goal. He is absolutely devastated. Van Persie attempted a cross, and Poulsen headed it into his own goal, after deflecting it off Agger’s back.
- Looking at the own goal replay, Poulsen definitely directed that header away from the goal, but it took an awkward glance off the back of his head, and spun back into the goal. Jabulani is a very unpredictable ball, that much is for sure.
Photo: Denmark’s goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen watches the header of Simon Poulsen (R) that ended up with an own goal during their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match against the Netherlands at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
- 49th minute: A yellow card for van Persie for fouling Kjaer.
- 55th minute: Enevoldsen goes off for Gronkjaer. A bit of an ancient player, is Gronkjaer.
- 58th minute: Van der Vaart’s back-flip shot, off van Persie’s cross, is easily saved by Sorensen.
- 60th minute: van Persie is caught offside by the Danish defence, and has a few words with the referee. He apparently couldn’t hear the whistle over the noise of the vuvuzelas.
Photo: Netherlands’ Dirk Kuyt (L), Wesley Sneijder (10) and Robin van Persie celebrate after Denmark scored an own goal during a 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
- 61st minute: Beckmann comes on for Bendtner.
- 63rd minute: Kjaer wins a dubious yellow card after tackling Sneijder. He definitely got the ball on that one.
Kahlenberg has been strangely subdued in this match.
- 66th minute: van der Vaart comes off, and Elia comes on.
- 68th minute: Elia gets away quite brilliantly from two defenders, and crosses the ball to van Persie who cannot get it past a wall of Danish defence. That was the first bit of exciting football in this game, coming from the Dutch substitute.
- 72nd minute: The lacklustre Kahlenberg is replaced by 18-year-old Eriksen.
- 73rd minute: Van Bommel gets a shot in, but Sorensen nudges it aside. Elia has definitely injected a greater sense of urgency into the Dutch attack.
- 74th minute: Van Persie headers a cross from a corner wide.
- 76th minute: Van Persie is withdrawn for Afellay.
- 77th minute: Kjaer fouls van Bommel, and earns the Dutch a free kick, who opt to play it instead of seeking a shot.
The Dutch are choosing to defend this one goal instead of seeking another. As if the football wasn’t boring enough already.
- 81st minute: De Jong goes down with a cramp to his right calf. Yes, really. The game is that boring.
- 81st minute: Sneijder fires a shot in, and disaster almost strikes again for the Danes as the ball takes a dangerous deflection off a Danish defender, but strikes the top bar and goes out for a corner.
- 83rd minute: Afellay shoots a shot high and wide. “Way high, Afellay,” moans the bored TV commentator.
- 85th minute: Sneijder gives Elia a brilliant pass, and he makes an even better run to nudge it past Sorensen’s outstretched arm. It hits the post, and Kuyt nudges it into the goal. Score!
Netherland’s Eljero Elia kicks the ball past Denmark’s goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to hit the sidebar and allowed team mate Dirk Kuyt to score during the 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match agasint Denmark at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Kooren
- 87th minute: Poulsen rescues his country after Kuyt fires a low cross in for Afellay, who manages to get it past Sorensen. Poulsen clears it brilliantly off the line.
- 87th minute: De Zeus comes on for De Jong.
The game is livelier now, the Dutch perhaps smelling blood. The Danish side is completely demoralised.
The referee finally blows his whistle, ending the Danish misery.
Report by Branko Brkic; Notes by Sipho Hlongwane
Main photo: Denmark’s goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen makes a save against the Netherlands during a 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder