Given its history, given its qualifying form, given the way it played in the warmup friendlies, there was perhaps something slightly disappointing about the way the Netherlands began the World Cup on Monday.
The 2-0 victory over Denmark was comfortable enough, and has given the Dutch control of the group, but it didn't shimmer with the quality of the 4-1 win over Ghana or the 6-1 win over Hungary that they achieved in the days leading up to the tournament. And no nation's fans, with the possible exception of Brazil's, are so demanding of not merely winning, but victory with style.
In a sense, the Netherlands, like Brazil, is burdened by history.
Every Dutch side will be compared to the
Whatever the Netherlands is doing at this World Cup, it is not playing Total Football. The great leap forward it has made over the past couple of years is to accept that it is possible to play good football without sticking to a 4-3-3 formation. As 4-3-3 has become a more popular formation, the Dutch, paradoxically, have embraced 4-2-3-1, a system that first emerged in Spain in the early 1990s.
It serves them well, though, the holding pair of
That, as Van Persie commented last week, in the first hint of any of the internal conflicts that alternately energize and enervate the Dutch, is "where the real party is." Which is a little harsh on
In a way, Kuyt is the Dutch
Yet a quick glance at the statistics shows that, when both were on the pitch, the Dutch had fractionally more than double the amount of possession on the right, where Kuyt plays, than on the left, where Van der Vaart operated. The arrival of
To suggest Kuyt had any direct influence on Poulsen's own goal would be stretching things, but equally it would be no great surprise if the sense of confusion that led him to head Van Persie's cross back across goal and in off the back of teammate
Even if the two goals were fortunate, though, Denmark could hardly complain that the Dutch victory was undeserved. The Netherlands enjoyed more than 60 percent of possession, and in terms of meaningful attempts on goal -- even if
There are also question marks over the fullbacks:
This Dutch team, in fact, resembles a slightly more fluent version of the so-called broken teams that dominated Italy in the late '90s, in which roles were clearly defined: some defended, some attacked and the divide between the two was clear.