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The Group of Death kicked off with title aspirants Netherlands and potential spoilsports Denmark taking on each other in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The Dutch had a lion share of the possession and managed a massive 29 shots on goal, but had the worst imaginable night possible with some woeful finishing from the front three of Arjen Robben, Ibrahim Afellay and Robin van Persie, and their complete lack of interest in passing the ball to each other, costing them the game. In contrast the Danes worked their socks off, played as a unit and were better represented in the only statistical box that really matters - goals. Former Ajax forwardÂ·Michael Krohn-Dehli scored the only goal of the game in the 24th minute, taking advantage of some non-existent defending and finishing with class. Stephan Andersen in the Danish goal had an excellent night, as did Simon Kjaer at center-back, keeping the Dutch attacking unit at bay.
It was hard not to make the two Arsenal strikers at the top end of the pitch the focus of attention with Dutch maestro Robin van Persie and Danish powerhouse Nicklas Bendtner both drawing plenty of media attention with respect to their futures at the club.Â·It was all about the Euros though tonight and the Dutch lined-up in expected fashion with young 18-year old PSV left-back Jetro Willems thrust into the firing line. Nigel de Jong was a slightly surprising pick ahead of Manchester United target Kevin Strootman in the heart of midfield, while Ibrahim Afellay got the nod to start on the wing after his 2 goals in the warm-up game. That meant no place in the starting eleven for 48-goal Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Tottenham's Rafael van der Vaart and former Liverpool veteran Dirk Kuyt.
Danish hopes rested on a great performance from their two centerbacks Liverpool's Daniel Agger and Roma's Simon Kjaer. 19-year old Ajax superstar Christian Eriksen was the playmaker in the middle of the park, and his ability to put Bendtner in scoring positions could dictate the outcome of this game. The difference in depth of the two benches were a clear indication of the disparity in quality between the sides.
The Dutch made the brighter start, dominating both possession and creating the better early chances. Young Willems showed no signs of nerves racing forward at every opportunity and having a pot shot on goal from distance. Van Persie then attempted to set up Afellay, but the winger hammered his rushed effort wide. The best chance though fell to Van Persie himself in the 8th minute, and the Dutchman despite being on his favoured left foot, failed to hit the target from inside the box. The Danes' only real chance in the opening 10 minutes came from a few set pieces with Agger rising well to get an effort on target.
The chances were being created at the rate of knots by the Dutch, and it looked like just a matter of time before they would open the scoring.
Robben and Robin were looking ominous up top together and a last ditch tackle from Jacobsen prevented the former from putting the ball on a plate for the Arsenal man to slot away in the 17th minute.
The Dutch continued to play their attractive football, but showed no end product, failing to really test Andersen in the Danish goal. Completely against the run of play the Danes took a shock lead throughÂ·Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute as the former Ajax man took the ball in his stride from just outside the Dutch area and strode into the box while the Dutch defence completely switched off.Â·Krohn-Dehli smashed the ball between the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg to give the Danes a shock lead.
Back up the other end, the Dutch had a good shout for a penalty turned down after the ball inadvertently struck Simon Poulsen's arm inside the box. They should have equalized moments later though through center-back Ron Vlaar, but the big defender planted his free header from a few yards out well wide.
The Danes grew in confidence after the goal, but it almost cost them a goal as a careless pass from goalkeeper Andersen found its way to Arjen Robben, who raced into the box and took the shot early, only to be denied by the woodwork.
There was very open game on now with Afellay continuing to come ever closer to find the back of the net, but seemingly playing without his shooting boots tonight. Back up the other end Krohn-Dehli almost scored a second, curling an effort in, only to be denied this time by Stekelenburg. Van Persie had a chance in the 42nd minute to restore parity but his first touch was too heavy, and Andersen rushed out to his feet to deny the Dutchman.
The Netherlands went into the interval a goal behind, and the pressure was on their coachÂ·Bert van Marwijk to change something in the final third.
Neither team made any changes at half-time, and the match resumed its early pattern with the Dutch creating all the chances. Robben shot over from inside the box, while Van Persie had an embarrassing airkick when through on goal before scrambling a right footed effort straight at the keeper moments later. Dutch captain Mark van Bommel joined in the action with a powerful striker from distance which Andersen managed to palm away, before Afellay missed a chance too. It was all one way traffic in the first 5 minutes after the break with the Netherlands somehow conniving to keep missing.
After that early flurry of chances, the Danes once again started getting a foothold in the game, and enjoyed greater spells of possession. Krohn-Dehli made something from nothing and nearly added a second with a rasping shot which Stekelenburg pushed behind for a corner.
The Dutch finally brought on some reinforcements with Huntelaar and Van der Vaart replacing Afellay and De Jong respectively as the Oranje were forced to go for it. With just over 15 minutes remaining Huntelaar almost got the Dutch level with his first touch, only for Andersen to once again bravely throw himself at the feet of the striker.
With time winding down on the clock Van Marwick made his last change throwing on Kuyt for right back Van der Wiel with Netherlands' hopes of progressing from a tough group hanging by a thread.
There were no noteworthy chances created in the last 10 minutes of normal time with the exception of a massive appeal from the Dutch for a penalty on Jacobsen, with the ball clearly striking the defender's hand. The referee though was having none of it. Van Persie had a late chance to salvage a point for the Dutch in injury time with a glancing header, but it just wasn't his night, with the ball landing on the roof of the net.
This result throws Group B wide open with the Danes putting themselves in unlikely contention and leaving the Dutch in dire straits. Netherlands may need to win both their remaining games against Germany and Portugal if they are to sneak out of this group, an unlikely outcome unless their finishing and teamwork improves radically.
Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van Der Wiel (Kuyt 84'), Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, Van Bommel, Nigel De Jong (Van der Vaart 71'), Robben, Sneijder, Afellay (Huntelaar 71'), Van Persie.
Subs: Vorm, Mathijsen, Bouma, Kuyt, Huntelaar, Schaars, Strootman, Luuk De Jong, Narsingh, Boulahrouz, Van der Vaart, Krul.
Denmark: Andersen, Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S Poulsen, Jorgensen, Zimling, Rommedahl (Mikkelsen 83'), Eriksen (Schone 74'), Krohn-Delhi, Bendtner.
Subs: Lindegaard, Christian Poulsen, Bjelland, Okore, Schone, Silberbauer, Pedersen, Wass, J Poulsen, Kahlenberg, Mikkelsen, Schmeichel.
File Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa
Final Score: Netherlands 0-1 Denmark (Michael Krohn-Dehli 24')
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