Denmark 1-0 Holland: Krohn-Dehli goal provides the first surprise of the tournament
Holland had the majority of possession and chances, but Denmark snatched the three points.
Morten Olsen chose the XI that was widely expected to start the game, in a rough 4-2-3-1 formation.
Bert van Marwijk’s starting selection was also as predicted, with Ron Vlaar in the side to replace the injured Joris Mathijsen. Jetro Willems became the youngest player in European Championship history at left-back.
This wasn’t quite the usual “park the bus and counter-attack” you expect from an underdog winning 1-0 – Denmark were simply outplayed for long periods in the first half, rode their luck, but then defended excellently in the final 20 minutes.
The most interesting part of this game was the way Denmark played in midfield. While most 4-2-3-1 sides would shift to a 4-4-1-1 in the defensive phase of play, Olsen was much more open and didn’t tell his wide players to get back quickly into a second bank of four. This is a side that essentially defends with a back four and two holding players, with Christian Eriksen told to pick up a holder, and the wide players tracking the opposition full-backs. This meant Holland had a lot of space either side of the two Danish holders.
Niki Zimling and William Kvist work as a duo, but had very separate roles. Kvist sat deep in front of the defence (and actually dropped into the back a few times) and occupied the zone Wesley Sneijder naturally plays in, but Zimling became something of a free player, and with no-one to track in his zone, pushed higher up the pitch and pressurised Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong on the ball. This made Denmark extremely open, basically with only a back four and a holder ahead, rather than two solid banks of four.
Sneijder’s movement was fascinating, and while he’s endured a difficult season at club level, this was a superb performance. His appreciation of space and the way Denmark were trying to shut him out of the game was fantastic – naturally he positioned himself between the lines, but when Kvist dropped deep and goalside of him, he motored forward and became a second striker, out of Kvist’s reach. He also made runs past the defence – most notably when he pushed past Simon Kjaer on the defender’s blind side, but couldn’t get enough power on a header after a long cross from deep.
Other times, Sneijder took advantage of the fact Dennis Rommedahl stayed high up the pitch, and moved over to the left to pick up short passes from the defence or midfield, and then played a couple of superb through-balls – one in particular for substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with the outside of his foot was sublime, and should have been rewarded with a better finish.
However, Robin van Persie had a terrible game in front of goal. His first touch deserted him, and he also had problems keeping his footing. His best work came when he moved over to the right of the pitch and combined with Arjen Robben; the Bayern winger was extremely predictable with his movement on the ball when van Persie remained in central positions, but when the striker moved over and played one-twos, Robben could sprint into the space created by van Persie drawing Vlaar up the pitch.
Denmark play out and push full-backs up
A notable feature of Denmark’s game was their insistence on playing out from the back, with Stephan Andersen always playing short sideways balls to Kjaer and Daniel Agger, with Kvist becoming the third centre-back, the full-backs moving higher up the pitch, and Denmark becoming something like a 3-3-1-3 at goal kicks. This often worked well, and drew Holland up the pitch to press, leaving space in behind – but Andersen looked a little nervous with the ball at his feet, and played a terrible pass straight to Robben that resulted in Holland hitting the post.
If this sounds like Holland were dominating, they were. This wasn’t a disciplined, organised, solid defensive display from Denmark in the first half. Nor was it a particularly counter-attacking performance – they were clearly trying to play passing football, they were just inferior to Holland and fortunate that the Dutch squandered some extremely presentable chances.
What Denmark did well, however, was to push the full-backs on, particularly Simon Poulsen down the left. He’d actually been the best player on the pitch when these sides met two years ago at the World Cup (until he was involved in a comical own goal) and his brave positioning helped push Robben back. Pressure down that side resulted in the first goal, scored by Krohn-Dehli.
Krohn-Dehli also did well without the ball. Whereas Rommedahl stayed high up the pitch and did little defensive work, Krohn-Dehli increasingly got back when needed and helped Poulsen double up against Robben.
After half-time, Denmark became more reserved. They played deeper, the full-backs became more defensive-minded, and the passing was about cooling the tempo of the game rather than looking to penetrate/
But Sneijder was still the game’s star man and recorded some amazing statistics – most passes (62, next highest 55), most passes played in the final third (37, next highest 21) and most tellingly, most chances created (10, next highest 5). Denmark defended well in the penalty box, but simply couldn’t shut him down. The top two pass combinations in the game were Ibrahim Afellay to Sneijder, and Sneijder to Afellay – showing how much Sneijder was playing towards the left flank.
Van Marwijk waited a long time to make changes. On 71 minutes came his double change. Rafael van der Vaart was on for De Jong to give more attacking thrust to the midfield. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar replaced the quiet Ibrahim Afellay, so Sneijder went leftish and van Persie dropped deeper.
This was the natural change – and had Huntelaar remained on the bench, we would have been questioning van Marwijk’s sanity – but it made Holland much less potent going forward. The combinations that had previously worked well (albeit without the reward of a goal) were no longer evident, and now individuals started trying to do everything on their own. Robben kept running down blind alleys, van der Vaart had a hopeful shot from a crazy position, and van Persie vanished from the game. The only bright moment after the Dutch substitutions came from that brilliant Sneijder pass through to Huntelaar.
Denmark kill the game
However, it was in the final 15-20 minutes that Denmark were at their most impressive defensively. Having seen van der Vaart introduced to become a creative midfielder moving forward from deep, Olsen responded immediately by withdrawing Eriksen and bringing on Lasse Schone, more comfortable at tracking van der Vaart towards his own goal. Denmark started to defend with eight players, with Krohn-Dehli protecting Poulsen on the left. The exceptions were Nicklas Bendtner, who remained upfront, and Rommedahl who didn’t track back well – so the energetic Tobias Mikkelsen came on to do that job, much to Rommedahl’s disgust.
When Denmark got the ball they slowed the tempo very nicely, and despite van Marwijk shouting at his side to move higher up the pitch, Holland aren’t accustomed to pressing and were very passive without the ball. Bendtner did some good work, dropping deep and holding up the ball.
Denmark were relatively comfortable in the final ten minutes, and the aerial domination of Agger and Kjaer was impressive, but it wasn’t like that for the whole game – Denmark adjusted well and protected what they had. They didn’t park the bus from the start.
Denmark didn’t play superbly, and Holland didn’t play badly. This result came down to finishing – Holland created some excellent opportunities, mainly through Sneijder, which were wasted. Denmark’s defence kept a clean sheet, but had van Persie brought his Arsenal form to this match, the Danes would have been criticised for being extremely open without the ball.
That said, Denmark adjusted well to the situation. They cooled the tempo, held onto the ball, defended in greater numbers and frustrated Holland. The group of death now looks even deadlier.