Despite qualifying for the tournament as the winners of Qualification Group H Denmark had been earmarked by many as the whipping boys of Group B – on the basis of having fewer well-known players and Nicklas Bendtner. Indeed, for the first 20 minutes of their opener against the Netherlands it appeared that even they believed this prophecy, as they were constantly ceding possession and territory to the Dutch. The Danes, though, were able to get revenge for a 2-0 defeat against the Dutch at the 2010 World Cup.
A goal against the run of play from Michael Krohn-Dehli appeared to lift the Danes confidence and perhaps this was enough to carry them to victory. The goal was unexpected, Simon Poulsen covered an amazing amount of ground and both Danish centre-backs (Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer) anticipated the play excellently, but an interesting feature of the game was that both goalkeepers were employing the short goal kick as often as possible.
Denmark were keen to persist with this policy even when under lots of pressure from the Dutch forwards in the first half, only opting to clear when there was no longer an open pass available. This method of distribution is often seen as high risk because of the proximity to the defending goal and the risks that that carries – a fear that was almost brought to fruition by Andersen in the first half – despite the much greater probability that the side will retain possession.
In order for this to work effectively, though, the movement of the central midfielders is crucial. William Kvist and Niki Zimling played in the holding positions in Denmark’s 4-2-3-1 and their movement into space and, more importantly, toward the defender in possession made it much easier for the Danes to play through the lines to find Christian Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli and Dennis Rommedahl.
Netherlands have been subjectively slaughtered in the aftermath for their negativity but the Oranje maintained command of the game throughout and created many chances to equalise and more. Netherlands had 32 attempts on goal but 22 of those were off target – four of which are attributed to Arjen Robben – and a number of superb goalscoring opportunities weren’t taken. The post-match mood might have been very different had the strike-force not choked.
Defeat shouldn’t have been as big a shock as it is being portrayed and the Dutch can still hope to progress given the level of cohesion of their front four.
Chalkboards from the StatsZone Euro 2012 iPhone app.