JOHANNESBURG // It was billed as a fight for supremacy between forwards, Holland's Robin van Persie, lining up against Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner, his teammate and strike partner at English Premier League side Arsenal.
Instead, following a drab first half at Soccer City, it was an own goal that changed the game as the Dutch eventually secured a comfortable 2-0 win yesterday. Simon Poulsen's defensive header rebounded off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and bounced into the Denmark net shortly after the restart.
"I was just thinking, this can't be happening," Poulsen said after the match, in which Dirk Kuyt scored with five minutes remaining to secure the three points.
"Of course I take it seriously, but what can I do? I can go cry and then they can send me home. But that's not what it's about. You have to admit when it's your fault and it was my mistake. But I need to go forward."
Going forward was exactly what Denmark failed to do after conceding. For the majority of the first half, the Danes had been dominated by Holland's possession football, but neither side had shown any real desire to open the scoring.
Only when Poulsen netted did the Dutch begin to find their feet. The introduction of Holland's Eljero Elia for Rafael van der Vaart spiced things up as the 23-year-old Hamburg winger staked a claim for a place in the starting 11 for Saturday's game with Japan. Elia continually caused problems down the left and his shot in the 85th minute, which struck a post only to be tapped in by Kuyt, showed he can be an able back-up to the injured Arjen Robben.
"Arjen is an exceptional player who can make a difference with his pace, but we have others in the team," said Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach. "I didn't have the feeling that we missed him and it is reassuring to know we can call him up when the time is right."
Holland, who have underachieved in major tournaments, arrived in South Africa full of hope and expectation, but yesterday's performance will have done little to convince doubters. Van Persie, prolific in the English Premier League, looked nervous, a factor epitomised in the 53d minute when he was played through on goal perfectly only to see his first touch uncharacteristically fail him.
Likewise Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder were both kept quiet by their European opponents, who themselves looked toothless in attack, despite Bendtner passing a late fitness test. "The players were a little tense and we were frustrated in the first half," said Van Marwijk.
"We wanted to play beautiful football, but we lost the ball too often. We improved after the first goal and then you saw what we are capable of doing. "We could have won by more, but it was a huge relief when the second goal went in." firstname.lastname@example.org
Man of the match: Eljero Elia