Dutch step past Danes
The Netherlands managed to grind out a 2-0 win over Denmark on Monday despite struggling to live up to its billing as one of the most dangerous attacking teams at the World Cup.
The Dutch took the lead through a fluke own goal in the 46th minute when Denmark defender Simon Poulsen headed a ball off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and into the net, when trying to clear a cross from Robin van Persie.
Dirk Kuyt doubled the lead in the 85th when he tapped in a rebound off the post from close range.
Denmark had frustrated the Dutch until the own goal with a compact midfield, and the Netherlands never came close to the free-flowing, high-scoring type of play their fans have become accustomed to — despite several other chances.
Instead, they had to rely on a bit of luck, as Van Persie beat an onrushing Thomas Sorensen to a long through ball down the left flank before squaring up to send a cross into the area. Poulsen had plenty of time and space to clear the ball, but his off-balance header bounced off Agger's back before trickling into the net.
"That was like a bucket of cold water over our heads," Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. "Simon Poulsen was one of our better players but he was unlucky. It's one of those things that happens in football."
After wasting a number of chances to double the lead, Van Persie then sent Eljero Elia clear into the area with a nifty through ball, and the substitute rolled his shot past Sorensen and against the post. Kuyt then beat his marker to tap the rebound into an empty net.
Both coaches sprung a surprise in their lineups with Bert van Marwijk putting Arjen Robben on the bench after previously ruling him out of the game because of a hamstring problem, while Morten Olsen started Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner after saying he would almost certainly miss the game with a groin problem.
But with the 1-0 lead to protect, Van Marwijk never looked likely to risk Robben's fitness by putting him on, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.
Bendtner was taken off in the 62nd. Olsen said Bendtner "wasn't supposed to play," but that a late injury to Jon Dahl Tomasson forced him to change his mind.
"We had to take some chances," Olsen said. "But we couldn't let Bendtner play more than one hour. We still have two important games."
Bendtner played as a lone striker up front as Denmark employed a five-man midfield to stop the Netherlands' trademark quick passing game.
Those tactics worked well in the first half, as the Dutch struggled to thread the ball through the midfield. Instead it was Denmark that created the best scoring chances on counter-attacks.
Dennis Rommedahl's cross from the right wing found Bendtner unmarked in the area in the 27th, but the Arsenal forward headed wide from six yards.
Bendtner then sent Thomas Kahlenberg clear into the left side of the area in the 37th, but his shot was pushed out to a corner by Martin Stekelenburg.
The Dutch continued to press forward after the own goal but struggled to create clear chances.
Van Persie had a chance to double the lead in the 52nd after being sent clear into the area by Kuyt but Sorensen rushed out and got a hand on the ball.
The Arsenal striker then set up Rafael van der Vaart with a cross into the area in the 59th, but his nifty volley produced a two-handed save from Sorensen.
Van Persie then met Wesley Sneijder's corner in the 74th, but his header bounced wide.