JOHANNESBURG – So the Dutch are supposedly favorites to win their first-ever World Cup? Not if they laze around the way they did on Monday against Denmark.
Yes, the Netherlands dominated possession as expected, but they had few good sequences or scoring chances and rode momentum from a Simon Poulsen own-goal to put down the stubborn Danes 2-0.
Despite a 20th straight win for the Oranje, there was little to no sign of the dynamic side that blazed through qualifying undefeated and humbled the US to boot in their friendly in Amsterdam back in March. Much less the one that dominated the group stage of Euro 2008, when the Dutch embarrassed Italy, France and Romania by a 9-1 margin.
Wesley Sneijder, after a sensational season in guiding Inter Milan to the Champions League crown, looked tired and uninspired, especially in the first half. Robin van Persie had some good looks, but had to create too much as the center forward in Holland’s 4-2-3-1.
Rafael van der Vaart, who filled in for recovering Arjen Robben on the left wing, was more or less absent except for a pretty volley attempt in the 59th minute. And the Danes made the Dutch back four look exposed, running several well-executed counterattacks that nearly led to goals on several occasions.
Total Football it was not. The oohing and aahing is on hold.
“We wanted to play beautiful football,” said Dutch head coach Bert van Marwijk after the match. “But we lost the ball. They didn't have the conviction or the force to come up [the field].”
As coaches keep reminding during this first week of the World Cup, avoiding a loss in your first game is key. As long as you win, you can keep momentum going. And let’s be fair, Denmark are no slouches. They’re organized and tough, and deserve credit for looking to exploit Holland’s holes.
But the Netherlands have such an awful history of folding in big tournaments, you can’t help but wonder if the pundits have perhaps overstated their chances. At the same time, there’s still plenty of time for van Marwijk to make the necessary tweaks to get his squad going again, and perhaps figure out a way to get the mercurial Robben back on the field.
“In this phase, we have to be patient,” van Marwijk said.
Dutch fans have waited this long. What’s another week?
Join the Debate! MLSsoccer.com's "ExtraTime Radio" is LIVE every day during the World Cup, 5-7 pm ET. Call in at 888-MLS-GOAL.