Three Thoughts: Denmark gives the Netherlands more to worry about
The Netherlands created enough chances to win this game twice over. But at the back, things were actually worse than the pessimists had anticipated.
Every time Denmark ventured forward in wide positions, the Oranje fullbacks looked vulnerable. The problem was partly due to the two "controllers" -- Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong -- being too slow to come out to center to cover. But that didn't excuse the utter sluggishness from Gregory van der Wiel and Jetro Willems in the one-v.-ones against decent, but not exactly stellar, opposition.
Johnny Heitinga was also far too easily outwitted by Michael Krohn-Dehli for the goal. Van Bommel playing very deep actually was a hindrance in that particular situation, as both players relied on each other to make the block. But neither did. The lack of individual class in the back four also has a negative effect on the structure of the sides. Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk doesn't trust the defensive department enough to sacrifice one protective midfielder.
The upshot of the lack of of creative skill in the center of the park is the front four being left pretty much to their own devices. Most of the time, being "broken" in that sense doesn't bother the Dutch too much; they overcome the collective deficit by individual brilliance. But when the big guns misfire, it helps to have a system that works better. Joris Mathijsen, the most experienced defender, might recover from injury in time to start against Germany in their next match Wednesday, but it remains to be seen if the 32-year-old will actually add more steel, not just his distinct lack of pace.
All the pre-tournament hype was around Christian Eriksen, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Ajax. Eriksen didn't have a bad game against the Dutch, but he saw little of the ball and was substituted with 16 minutes to go. Lone center-forward Nicklas Bendnter did alright with very supply, while Denmark's centerback pairing of Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger rarely put a foot wrong in the face of an early Dutch onslaught.
But the star performer for Morten Olsen's side was Krohn-Dehli. The 29-year-old forward from Bröndby was employed in an essentially defensive role on the left side of midfield. His work-rate going back was a key factor in dealing with the threat of Arjen Robben. Even more telling were his contributions on the other side of the pitch, however. Krohn-Dehli found a lot of the space on the break from his wide position and was at heart of every good Danish attack.
He took his goal with aplomb -- shooting through Maarten Stekelenburg's legs from a tight angle -- then troubled the Dutch again with a fearsome shot from distance. If he can utilize his chances with the same brutal efficiency in games to come, the Danes' counter-attacking set-up could thrive.
In the match's early stages, the Dutch were flooding forward and a goal for Oranje looked like just a matter of time. But with every missed opportunity, every misplaced pass and mishit shot from an impossible angle -- guilty as charged, Robben -- both him and Robin van Persie had less influence on the proceedings.
For van Persie, it looked as if a long season, his first without injury, caught up with him. Poor first touches often betray tiredness. Did the pressure also get to him? "I worked myself up two much before past tournaments," van Persie had admitted before. This time, he was supposed to feed of his confidence from his Premier League excellence but it didn't quite happen. The fact that a big debate about Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's inclusion will now erupt in the Netherlands won't help him rediscover a sense of tranquility.
For Robben, it was almost a déjà vu. He started as well as he did for Bayern against Chelsea in the Champions League final and could be said to be unlucky when his angled shot hit the post. But after the break, frustration combined with predictability and selfishness to the worst possible effect. Again and again, Robben tried to cut in from the right and shoot at goal while teammates waved their heads in despair. Robben's ego-tripping showed the flip-side to the individualism van Marwijk tolerates. The 28-year-old should take a leaf out of Wesley Sneijder's book. The Inter Milan midfielder was the Netherlands' most unselfish and best performer. It can't have been a coincidence.