Cruyff and Neeskens, Gullit and van Basten, Bergkamp and Seedorf. The Netherlands may have produced some of the world’s best soccer players in the past 40 years but, so far, World Cup glory had escaped them.
Always mentioned as dark horses, previous tournaments have been hamstrung by infighting or an inability to win a penalty shoot-out. Or both.
With Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sniejder, coach Bert van Marwijk, has an attacking triumvirate to rival Brazil and Argentina. If all three can keep fit for the duration of the tournament, this could be Holland's moment.
The Dutch made light work of a relatively easy qualifying group, winning all eight games and conceding just two goals. But as Serbia discovered in 2006, there is a world of difference between qualifying in style and replicating that form when it counts. (The Serbs continued their streak of underperformance on the biggest stage yesterday by losing to Ghana 1-0.)
The Danes qualified ahead of fellow Scandinavians, Sweden, but Martin Olsen’s men appear to lack the spark of creativity that would take them any further than the second round. Their likely wingers, Dennis Rommedahl and Martin Jorgensen are 31 and 34, while the team’s central striker, Nicklas Bendtner, has had an up and down season for Arsenal. Mainly down. Bendtner will probably miss the first match through injury and many fans will be happier to see the experienced Jon Dahl Tomassen start up front in his place.
With the forward talent at Holland’s disposal, the Danes will be relying on the acumen of Daniel Agger and 21-year-old Simon Kjaer, who has been a star in Italy at Palermo, to keep them at bay. In goal Stoke’s Thomas Sorensen, if fully fit, will need to be on top form.
This should be a game Holland wins.
If they manage to do it in style it will lay down a marker to the more established giants – Spain, Argentina, and Brazil (their likely quarter-final opponents) – that the Dutch should be taken seriously.
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