Holland play Denmark on Saturday - the first encounter in Euro 2012’s “Group of Death” and “the most vital match”, if we’re to believe the Dutch players and manager. Defeat means Holland would have to beat the other two teams: archrivals Germany and Portugal. And that looks like a tall order.
Denmark, however, take a different tack. Their manager Morten Olsen seems to prefer the underdog position and has rated the Dutch as favourites to win the match and “top favourites to win the title.” The 62-year-old former Ajax coach, who knows the Dutch game inside out won’t throw in the towel though: “we’re not going to say that we don't stand a chance. We will naturally try and grab the opportunity with both hands,” he told UEFA.com.
The Danes feel more confident about getting points from the other two games. After all, didn’t they qualify for Euro 2012 as group winners after beating Portugal 2-1 in Copenhagen?
Labelling Denmark as rank outsiders would be a huge understatement anyway. The side includes highly talented playmaker Christian Eriksen, prolific goalscorer Niklas Bendtner and Liverpool stalwart Daniel Agger.
But, of course, Holland have the Big Four: Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben. All in their late twenties now, the formidable quartet are keen to clinch a major title, following their 1-0 defeat at the 2012 World Cup.
And then there is Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, the most profilic striker in qualifying, the Schalke man bagging 12 goals. And Barcelona’s Ibrahim Afellay, just back from a long knee injury and looking very strong in the warm-up fixtures.
All in all, Holland have one of the most powerful attacking line-ups in recent years. This will take the pressure off the Dutch defence, which has looked very shaky recently and now has to do without centre-back Joris Mathijsen, who pulled up limp during the Bulgaria game two weeks ago.
Dutch light favourites
Both the stats and the odds suggest a Holland victory as the most likely outcome. The Dutch are unbeaten in the last eight matches against the Danes, although the results include five draws. And the odds are 4/7 in favour of a Holland victory.
Coach Bert van Marwijk summed up the Dutch take on the Group B opening match earlier this week:
“The advantage of being lumped together in a Group of Death with Germany, Portugal and Denmark is that you have to be completely focused, right from the start. You could see that Denmark are a strong team, just by looking at their performance during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.”
“Let me repeat what I said two years ago [after the Dutch beat the Danes 2-0 at the World Cup, ed]: we don’t have any secrets for each other. Quite a few Danish players play in Holland or have played in Holland. Others are with top European clubs. The style of play is quite the same, and both teams respect each other. Both coaches know each other, too. So, the encounter on Saturday will be very interesting, I think.”
“This is a big tournament and the Denmark game is the first we play, which for me is the most important game. Just after the draw, I said this and I’m repeating it now: the first game is vitally important.”