The top four passed it amongst themselves. Occasionally, they passed it to the two midfield enforcers. They took turns taking shots. The swapped wings. They played through the middle. They passed and passed and passed. The crowd would be forgiven for thinking that it was a practice session, that they were witnessing. And keeping in tune with the practice mode, they all took shots, of course. And routinely missed.
None of them appeared to be too bothered, though. Another chance will come our way, was the thinking. Chance? Nay. Chances. And they did come. And they were all wasted.
In the meanwhile, the other team, yes, the same team that was hoping to get a touch on the ball, smartly countered and well, what do you know? They scored. One-nil to Denmark. Against the run of the play, whatever that means. And that was the way it would finish.
The first game of the group of death was final-whistled. It was indeed a win. There was a change in the script, though. The team everyone expected to win, did not.
If you were a Holland supporter, you would, no doubt, have, at the time the goal went in, a familiar sense of deja-vu about your being. A familiar story, this was. All the ball, all the possession, all the shots, but none of the goals. It was like the Dutch of old. The brilliant, but selfish Dutch.
Right from the start, something that was most peculiar was the two Dutch teams on the pitch. There was Stekelenberg, his defenders and the two midfield generals, Van Bommel and De Jong on one team and there were Sneijder, Robben, Affelay and Van Persie on the other. I saw two teams because, apart from a few surging runs from the young Willems, there hardly seemed to be any connection between the two aforementioned teams.
Van Bommel and De Jong were happy to just give the ball to one of the forward four and then sit back. As a result the forward Dutchmen were swamped by Danish shirts and as a result, had to do something more than the simple pass to just get some space. To their credit, the Dutchmen did indeed create space quite brilliantly, but when they did, their crosses went to no one in particular or they decided to get selfish and shot high, wide, and not-at-all handsomely.
After a few shots-when-passes-were-better-options, you could see a lot of shoulders dropping and runs stopping. It was like the boy who cried wolf. As the half wore on, when one of them had the ball, the others pretty much expected him to take his man on and shoot and hence pretty much stopped expecting the ball into the box. They had no one else to blame, really.
The second half was more of the same. Though the Danes did offer more in the form of threats, it was generally the Dutch bossing possession, but not really looking threatening. Van Persie having an off-day did them no favors either.
When the final whistle sounded, the Dutch team looked defeated. There was a shot of Robben sitting on the ground. His knees were bent and his hands were on the ground, at his sides. He was shaking his head. Vigorously. It was disbelief. Believe, Arjen, believe; for it is true. It has happened.
The group is not over; not by any means. However, if you think it is, it is. Van Marwijk certainly has his work cut out. He did say that Holland was a team that everyone knew about. Well, it’s now time to reinvent themselves; and fast. They don’t have too much time. They play again in less than a week.