KHARKIV: Ukraine has been the focus of so much extraneous interest that it was almost a surprise to greet the Saturday reality that Poland’s cohosting partner at Euro 2012 has arguably a more compelling set of group matches than its better-prepared neighbour. Certainly the Ukrainian start could not have been bettered with both Holland and Germany in action within hours — and the Dutch losing in the first major upset of the event.
Dutch against Deutsch is one of the most steely rivalries in world football but victory in the first match is always an essential prerequisite of tournament play and Holland handed the Germans a gift start – before Joachim Low’s men had even kicked a ball in anger – in going down 1-0 to Group B outsiders Denmark.
The plain truth is that, in a 16-team tournament at this level, no-one should be under-rated. Holland were reminded the hard way. The 2010 World Cup runners-up dominated the opening 23 minutes against the defensive Danes only to be caught by a sucker-punch counter-attack. Michael Krohn-Dehli stepped in from the left and rasped a low angled drive into the net through keeper Maarten Stekelenburg’s legs.
Holland coach Bert Van Marwijk had opted to attack with England’s top scorer in Robin Van Persie rather than Germany’s top scorer in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar but it was Arjen Robben who caused the Danes the most disquiet with his pace and will. In the 36th minute he could have equalised but, gifted an acre of space in a dangerous central position, he saw his shot ricochet back from a post. This has not been the Bayern Munich flyer’s luckiest season.
Denmark, who had not beaten the Dutch in open play for 42 years, thus led 1-0 at the break but it was an advantage which looked fragile indeed as Holland flowed forward on the restart. Van Persie slipped to waste one chance and had another saved by the diving keeper Stephan Andersen who then fisted away a powerful drive from Mark Van Bommel.
Increasingly concerned, Van Marwijk threw Huntelaar plus Rafael Van der Vaart and then Dirk Kuyt into the fray but the Danes were growing in confidence and concentration. If Jakobsen and Daniel Agger have ever played better for their country then the occasion did not come readily to mind. Johnny Heitinga headed wide from a left-wing corner in stoppage-time and that was the end of it.
Victory was probably sweetest for match-winner Krohn-Dehli who had once been cast off by Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam.
** Holland teenager Jetro Willems became, against Denmark, the youngest player ever to take the field in the Euro finals. He was 18 years 71 days old when he started at leftback, younger than Belgium’s Enzo Scifo who was 18 years 115 days old when he played in 1984.
= = =