NED 2 DEN 0: Second gear

PERHAPS it was something to do with the clips from past tournaments shown in the build-up to the competition no one, surprisingly, is calling South Africa ’10.

But for every person touting Germany as potential winners after last night’s 4-0 demolition of Australia, there were at least two more suggesting they may have peaked too early. (Plus another couple stating that Australia were rubbish.)

There are too many memories of Brazil in 1982 and 1986, of Argentina in 1998 and 2006. Teams that start a major international tournament well do not always win it. Holland discovered that for themselves at Euro 2008, thrashing Italy and France in the group stages, only to go out to Russia in the quarter-finals.

Perhaps a fear to starting too well was the reason behind Holland’s second-gear victory over Denmark in Johannesburg this afternoon. It might not do them any harm. They were the first European team to secure a place at this World Cup, and the only one to win all 10 of their qualifiers. Expectations were high, but then they usually are with the Dutch, as Jon Champion was quick to point out.

After Saturday night’s Hyundai HD advert fiasco, it’s a brave man at ITV who launches into car metaphors at the moment. Step forward Champion.

“It’s like the unveiling of a luxury car,” he said of the Dutch squad before kick off. “Everyone wants to see it, no one knows how it’s going to run, it could be the greatest thing ever, but it could just be well-dressed disappointment.”

The first half was something of a splutter. Wesley ‘I take the free kicks’ Sneijder took perhaps the worst free kick of the tournament so far. Van der Vaart, Kuyt and Van Persie laboured. Predictably, Nigel de Jong got booked for scything down an opponent. Denmark centre-back Simon Kjaer looked very cool and composed. No wonder Manchester City and Manchester United have taken an interest.

No goals at the break, and a chance to assess the latest mood in the England camp.

At half-time, perhaps the most bizarre of those Hyundai adverts yet. Not for the cars playing football – that has been the theme running through all of these ads, which have been voiced by the stalwart that is Peter Brackley – but for the blatant mickey-take of Kevin Keegan’s ITV commentary on England’s defeat to Argentina at France 98.

Brackley: England free kick – will he score Kevin?
‘Kevin’: Yes? No? Maybe?
Brackley: He has!

Hilariously, Keegan was on pundit duty in ITV’s Johannesburg studio, although he seemed unaware of the ad. Maybe Adrian Chiles should apologise to him at some point.

Still, at least it didn’t cut into the action this time. Fifty seconds after the restart, every single member of ITV’s audience got to see one of the great World Cup own goals.

Robin Van Persie crossed from the left, Denmark left-back Simon Poulsen showed all the directional sense of a Total Wipeout contestant during the Dizzy Dummies round, and headed into his own net via the back of team-mate Dan Agger.

It lifted Holland, who looked livelier after that, and Dirk Kuyt’s late goal gave them a 2-0 victory that was just about deserved. No one will be talking about Holland as favourites after this, but that might just work to their advantage.


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