Netherlands ease past Denmark
Strong contenders the Netherlands launched their FIFA World Cup campaign with a scrappy 2-0 victory over a fighting Denmark in their Group E opener at Johannesburg on Monday.
While the Dutch were gifted a self-goal in the 46th minute to forge ahead, striker Dirk Kuyt produced a goal just five minutes before the final whistle to give his team full points at the majestic Soccer City stadium.
The Dutch, boasting of a star-studded line up, were hardly convincing in their win in a match which seldom rose to great heights.
Denmark, who have not beaten the Dutch, apart from a penalty shootout victory in Euro 92, for 43 years, rarely looked like scoring in a match that never really lived up to expectations.
Although the nature of the own goal was fortunate for the Dutch, they probably deserved what luck was going after being more enterprising for most of a largely poor first half.
Image: Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt celebrates scoring against Denmark
A bizarre goal put the Dutch in the lead
The Netherlands rode on a huge slice of luck to go into the lead barely a minute after the interval, courtesy a self goal from Denmark's Jakob Poulsen.
It turned out to be a bizarre goal which was the result of a move initiated by Robin van Persie who managed to dribble past a few defenders and cross the ball from the left wing.
Poulsen got his head to the ball, which hit the back of his teammate Daniel Agger before going into the goal.
The goal came as a big let down for the Danes who put up a spirited display to keep their much superior opponents, ranked fourth in the current FIFA rankings, on a leash for most part of the opening half.
Image: Netherlands' players celebrate after an own goal by Denmark
Kuyt tapped in Netherlands' second from close
The Dutch sealed the fate of their opponents in the 85th minute, capitalising on a defensive lapse.
The goal-bound move was initiated by Eljero Elia whose 10-yard shot was tipped to the post by the Denmark custodian Thomas Sorensen.
Off the rebound, Kuyt tapped in from close, much to the delight of his teammates.
Both the teams appeared a trifle tentative in the early stages of the proceedings as they gauged each other's defence with a few exploratory raids.
But after 10 minutes of so, both the teams accelerated the pace of the game and the barren opening session was more or less evenly contested with brisk attacks and counter attacks.
Image: Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie celebrate against Denmark
Ibrahim Afellay's effort was acrobatically cleared
Denmark, ranked 36 in the FIFA rankings, could have opened their account as early as the sixth minute of the contest when captain William Jorgensen initiated a brilliant move from the flanks to find the dangerous Thomas Kahlenberg inside the box.
However, the Wolsburg player could not capitalise on the chance.
After a series of exchanges, the Dutch had a close look at the goal in the 24th minute when medio Mark van Bommel darted down the right and crossed to Rafael van der Vaart.
However, the Real Madrid player failed to control the ball first time and then shot wide much to the disappointment of the Dutch supporters.
The Dutch continued to dominate possession and got their just reward when Kuyt pounced near the end.
They then almost made it 3-0 but substitute Ibrahim Afellay's effort was acrobatically cleared off the line by Simon Poulsen.
Image: -Netherlands' Ibrahim Afellay comes on for team mate Robin Van Persie
'It's a good start to the tournament'
Four minutes later, the Dutch goal had a close shave as the hard-working Dennis Rommendahl found space down the right and centred to an unmarked Nicklas Bemdtner but the Arsenal striker's header flies over the crosspiece with Netherlands custodian Maarten Stekelenburg out of position.
Denmark saw another chance go abegging in the 36th minute when Rommendahl's volley went wide.
Netherlands got a chance to take the lead just two minutes before the breather when Persie managed to break through the defence with deft footwork but could not control the ball close to the goalmouth.
"We hardly gave away any chances. Denmark are a very defensive team and you have to be patient. I'm very relieved that we picked up the full three points," said coach Bert van Marwijk, after the match.
"It's a good start to the tournament and I'm satisfied with the final result," he added.
Image: Denmark's coach Morten Olsen shakes hands with the Netherlands' coach Bert van Marwijk during a 2010 World Cup