Kuyt strike helps put Danes in their place
THIS tournament may have the stated goals of breaking down barriers, but from a European football perspective, the opening exchanges have merely served to reinforce the traditional hierarchy.
Like the Serbian team which toiled against Ghana in Pretoria on Sunday, Denmark arrived in South Africa with a burgeoning reputation after comfortably topping a qualifying group which included Portugal and Sweden.
Yet on the biggest stage they produced a flaccid display, largely based around preventing their vaunted opponents from performing. A stroke of luck in the form of a comical own-goal may have set the Dutch on their way, yet they encountered a team with precious little confidence in their own ability.
When the World Cup comes around, the search for dark horses is a popular pursuit. Abject performances from the Danes, Serbs, Greece and Slovenia would suggest that the springer will emerge from outside Europe, if there is to be one at all. Established powers Holland and Germany have set the standard, racking up comfortable wins in their opening games without being really extended.
In the aftermath of this drab enough affair at Soccer City, players from both sides reflected on the difficulties brought about by the match ball, the altitude and even the quality of the surface. The bottom line, though, is that the freak conditions failed to bring about any kind of freak result.
Even without the services of Arjen Robben, an unused sub recuperating from hamstring problems, the Dutch did the minimum required to collect the spoils. While Nicklas Bendtner, short of 100pc fitness himself, did threaten with a first-half header, Morten Olsen's side had little to offer thereafter.
Holland were the better side before the interval, without really forging any clear openings. From the restart, a deep Robin Van Persie cross resulted in Danish disaster with full-back Simon Poulsen's erratic headed clearance rebounding off Daniel Agger and completely outfoxing Thomas Sorenson.
"The ball has a mind of its own," said Dutch skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst, expressing sympathy for a fellow member of the left-backs union. "The flight of the ball changed direction and he couldn't react." Danish coach Olsen wasn't making excuses for that error though. "I told him something like that has happened to me before," he said. "I told him to forget about it because he played well."
After that stroke of fortune, the Dutch eventually turned the screw when Bert van Marwijk introduced the impressive Eljero Elia, who was more direct in his approach and created the insurance goal when Sorenson could only push his effort onto the post and Dirk Kuyt got his timing just right to convert the rebound.
The Dutch strolled through qualifying without dropping a point, and they could reach the knockout stages here with a similar record. As ever, their bottle will be questioned when the going gets tough.
"We have already played four or six years with each other and we're very happy with the way things are going now," said Van Bronckhorst. "We are confident in ourselves."
His midfield colleague Mark van Bommel was kind to the opposition. "I think they can play better," he observed.
Sorenson was blaming the conditions and the light ball, rather than reflecting on his own side's deficiencies. "Even at goal kicks you have to really hold back because otherwise it ends up down the other end," he said. "You can see that more or less all crosses in the game were over-hit. It's a bit unfortunate for us, but a draw today wouldn't have changed a lot because we still had to beat Cameroon and Japan. They are the games we have to win."
The attitude means more than the altitude. In the overall scheme of things, the Danes know their level.
Holland -- Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst; Van Bommel, De Jong; Kuyt, Sneijder, Van der Vaart; Van Persie.
Denmark -- Sorensen, Jacobsen, Agger, Kjaer, S Poulsen; Enevoldsen, C Poulsen, Kahlenberg, Jorgensen; Rommedahl; Bendtner.
Ref -- S Lannoy (France).