By Mattias Karen Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG — The Netherlands surged into the World Cup with one of the globe’s fiercest attacks. It took some luck to get that offense on track.
The Dutch got an own goal in the 46th minute and beat Denmark 2-0 today at Soccer City, failing to break through on their own until the 85th, when Dirk Kuyt tapped in a rebound off the post from close range.
Well, whatever works.
“We wanted to play beautiful soccer but we lost the ball,” said Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk, whose team did not lose a game in qualifying. But “from time to time you could see how good we can be.”
The Netherlands took the lead when Denmark defender Simon Poulsen headed a ball off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and into the net. Poulsen had been trying to clear a cross from Robin van Persie.
Denmark had frustrated the Dutch until then with a compact midfield, and the Netherlands never came close to the free-flowing, high-scoring type of play their fans have become accustomed to, despite several other chances.
Cameroon played Japan later today in the other Group E match.
The Netherlands’ gift goal came as Van Persie beat an onrushing Thomas Sorensen to a long through ball down the left flank, then squared up and sent a cross into the area. Poulsen had plenty of time and space to clear the ball, but his off-balance header bounced off Agger’s back and into the net.
“That was like a bucket of cold water over our heads,” Denmark coach Morten Olsen said. “Simon Poulsen was one of our better players but he was unlucky. It’s one of those things that happens in soccer.”
Poulsen said he saw the ball too late, and that it “practically hit me in the face.”
“I was just thinking, this can’t be happening,” Poulsen said.
After wasting a number of chances to double the lead, Van Persie sent Eljero Elia a nifty through ball and the substitute shot’s went past Sorensen, hitting the post. But the ball bounced straight out toward Kuyt, who beat his marker to tap the rebound into an empty net.
“I don’t think we played that well in the first half, but in the second we really deserved to win,” playmaker Wesley Sneijder said. “The Danes in the first half did an excellent job, because they studied us very thoroughly.”
Nicklas Bendtner, expected to miss the game with a groin problem, started as a lone striker up front for Denmark, which employed a five-man midfield to stop the Netherlands’ trademark quick passing game.
Those tactics worked well in the first half, as the Dutch struggled to thread the ball through the midfield. Instead, it was Denmark that created the best scoring chances on counter attacks. Dennis Rommedahl’s cross from the right wing found Bendtner unmarked in the area in the 27th, but the Arsenal forward headed wide from six yards.
Bendtner then sent Thomas Kahlenberg clear into the left side of the area in the 37th, but his shot was pushed out to a corner by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Bendtner was pulled out of the game in the 62nd minute, with Olsen saying he “wasn’t supposed to play” but a late injury to Jon Dahl Tomasson forced him to change his mind.
The Dutch continued to press forward after the own goal but struggled to create clear chances. Van Persie had an opportunity to double the lead in the 52nd after being sent clear into the area by Kuyt but Sorensen rushed out and got a hand on the ball.
The Arsenal striker then set up Rafael van der Vaart with a cross into the area in the 59th, but his well-placed volley produced a two-handed save from Sorensen.
Van Marwijk opted to keep star winger Arjen Robben on the bench as he recovers from a hamstring problem.
“We won, 2-0, so there you go. You can hardly say that you missed him,” Van Marwijk said. “Arjen is an exceptional player who on his own can make a difference. … But we’ve got a couple of them. And I’m really pleased that we have them on board.”