The Netherlands rarely had to step out of second gear during a routine 2-0 win against a lackluster Denmark side in Johannesburg’s Soccer City. A comical own goal, which went in off Daniel Agger’s back, gave the Dutch the lead just after half-time and although the Dutch had to wait for Dirk Kuyt’s tap-in to seal the victory, Denmark had never threatened to equalize.
The Netherlands’ are often tipped as pre-tournament dark horses, and this World Cup is no different.
Arjen Robben may have been missing with a hamstring injury but coach Bert van Marwijk was still able to call on the talent of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, and Rafael van der Vaart. The young substitute, Eljero Elia, whose shot was palmed against the post to set up Kuyt’s goal, also impressed. This team should not struggle to create chances.
They struggled initially, though.
It was an uninspiring first half, summed up by the crowd’s enthusiasm for a Mexican Wave – a sure sign that there was little on the pitch to keep their attention.
The Netherlands were neat but rarely threatening, while Denmark occasionally caused problems on the counter attack. Sniejder was reduced to two long-range free kicks. Both were from at least 35 yards – one slammed into the wall, the other sailed clear over the bar.
The best chances in the first 45 minutes fell to the Danes. Nicklas Bendtner should have done better with a free header in the 27th minute which he glanced wide, while Dennis Rommendahl forced a good save out of Maarten Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal after Martin Jorgensen had played a delicious cross field pass to set him clear.
But Agger’s own-goal, within 40 seconds of the restart, knocked the air out of the Danes.
Set up to play defensive football, they seemed unable to change. Martin Olsen’s three second-half substitutions were all attacking changes, but they made little difference. A late counter-attack, when the score was still 1-0, petered out when only three men in red bothered to cross the halfway line.
The official capacity may have been 83,465 but empty seats were, once again, in evidence.
Thousands were still free by kick off, although most had filled by midway through the first half; a sign that Johannesburg’s traffic jams and tight security around the stadium are preventing everyone from arriving in time.
More frustrating for the organizers must be the rows of empty seats in the corporate boxes. Around half were unfilled. It is becoming a recurring problem and one that threatens to make a mockery of FIFA claims that 97 percent of the tournament’s tickets have been sold.
More on this topic in coming blogs.
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