Euro 2012: Denmark 1-0 Netherlands
Luck, we could posit, is more complex than simply being a matter of black and white. Whilst the Netherlands have a right to feel a little aggrieved that a couple of refereeing decisions might not have gone their way in Kharkiv this evening, there is a truth in the point that a team featuring such names as Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and John Heitinga shouldn’t be depending upon the benevolence of the referees whistle in order to claim a point or more from a match against the group outsiders in the finals of a major tournament. For every time the referees whistle didn’t rise to his mouth, there was another when a Dutch player failed to take advantage of an opportunity that had presented itself to them.
This luck came into play on more than one occasion. A missed handball from Denmarks Simon Poulsen shortly after they had taken the lead which would have allowed the Dutch team a penalty kick and an almost immediate route back into the game. A shot from Arjen Robben that thudded out off the post. A desperate last minute appeal for a penalty kick from Klaas Jan Huntelaar as the match ticked over into stoppage time which was again waved away. Sometimes, the rub of the green if not on your side, and such is the wealth of talent at the behest of the Netherlands team that any excuses would be fairly thin-sounding. Denmark, with a a couple of lucky rolls of the dice and the wherewithal to take their chance when it came, deserved their win this evening.
When the goal came, it did so with composure that was befitting of its importance. Michael Krohn-Dehli had hitherto been anonymous to the point of invisibility, but a shimmy and a dummy were enough to leave Heitinga and Van Bommel trailing in his wake, before a low shot which squeezed under goalkeeper Michael Stekelenburg and in. This was, in its own way, just desserts for Denmark over the course of the evening. With the odds stacked against them, they were well-organised, intelligent and played counter-attacking game from which they might even have added to their lead once they had taken it. This was not a case of a team scoring on the break and merely parking a metaphorical bus on the edge of their own penalty area having taken the lead. The Netherlands were curiously inert. The Danes took the chance that was presented to them.
The crux of the Dutch problem this evening was a lack of chances. The Netherlands kept the ball as their own possession for more or less the entire opening twenty minutes of the match, yet there was seldom any sense that the Denmark defence was having to stretch every sinew in order to keep them at bay. The Danish goalkeeper Andersen made two decent saves – one from a long range shot from Van Bommel and the other from Huntelaar. Other than that and the aforementioned moments of bad luck, the Dutch attack – which should, with the bounteous potential of Robin Van Persie, have been able to peck holes in the Danish defence at will in theory – was notable mostly for its apparent absence. They will have to improve significantly on this if they are to get through to the quarter-finals of the competition.
This afternoon, supporters of the Dutch team seemed to have much to look forward to. A straightforward win, a match against a match against Germany which would decide who finished in top place in the group and then, according to the script, a final match against Portugal that would would confirm their arrival in the quarter-finals with at least one eye focussed on further progression in the competition. Things couldn’t look more different for them this evening. This was the match that the Netherlands were supposed to win. The match that was the hors d’oeuvres before the main event. They now go into their remaining matches knowing that they need to avoid defeat in both and win at least one of them. In the space of ninety minutes in Kharkiv, an awful lot of expectation died for this team and its supporters. For Denmark, meanwhile, perhaps there will be wry smiles and recollections of the summer of 1992. Universally written off before a ball was kicked, they now have as good a chance as they could of hoped for of progressing from a previously impossible looking group and, moreover, they were excellent value for their win. Group B was blown wide open earlier on this evening.
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