In just three days, Euro 2012's highly-anticipated "Group of Death" will finally kick off, with Denmark taking on the Netherlands in a match that will very likely decide if either team makes it the knockout rounds.
Denmark will need to upset the Netherlands if they hope to qualify for the knockout rounds, since their team is considerably weaker than Portugal or Germany and will beat only one of them if they're lucky.
As for the Netherlands, anything but a win against Denmark will see them go into their games vs. Portugal and Germany under extreme pressure, and greatly weaken their claim to being favorites for the Euro 2012 title.
The two teams last faced off in the 2010 World Cup, where the Dutch overcame the Danes 2-0 in a Group E matchup.
Denmark's team should mostly be at full strength for its Group B opener, minus Thomas Sorensen, the country's first-choice goalkeeper. Sorensen injured his back against Brazil, in Denmark's first Euro 2012 warm-up game, and was replaced by Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel as a result.
Denmark have lost two of their three matches in 2012, but won their final preparatory match for Euro 2012 two goals to nil against a good Australia team.
The Netherlands are not quite as fortunate as Denmark, and will be missing Joris Mathijsen, one of their usual starting centre-backs. They'll also feel the absence of Erik Pieters, their usual starting left-back, who was ruled out of this year's competition through injury.
In their place, Ron Vlaar and Jetro Williams will likely be called on to fill the team's holes in defense. Both are solid players who look like they have bright futures ahead of them. Unfortunately, both are very low on experience internationally.
The Netherlands started preparations for Euro 2012 poorly, with a 3-2 loss to Bayern Munich and 2-1 to Bulgaria, but have since bounced back with 2-0 and 6-0 wins over Slovakia and Northern Ireland, respectively.
Denmark's starting lineup should look much like the team put out vs Australia. The defense is effectively set in stone: Simon Poulsen and Lars Jacobsen will start at left-back and right-back respectively, while Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger will start in the center of defense.
Denmark will likely line up in a 4-2-3-1, with two defensive midfielders. Those two DMs may be William Kvist and Thomas Zimling, although Christian Poulsen could replace Zimling if manager Morten Olsen decides he wants his captain starting matches (instead of coming off the bench).
Up front, Olsen will likely stick to his trusted guns. Christian Eriksen will play behind Nicklas Bendtner, and Dennis Rommedahl and Michael Krohn-Dehli will play out wide. Lasse Schone could replace Rommedahl in the starting lineup if Olsen is feeling risky ahead of the team's first match.
For the Netherlands, limited options will likely dictate the Oranje's defense. Maarten Stekelenburg will start in goal, and in front of him, John (Jonny) Heitinga will likely partner Ron Vlaar—though there is a small chance that Khalid Boulahrouz may be selected instead.
Jetro Willems and Gregory van der Wiel will start at left-back and right-back respectively.
Though the Dutch are spoiled for talent up front, Bert van Marwijk is expected to stick to his usuals. As such, also in a 4-2-3-1, Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong will likely partner each other behind Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay, who has replaced the aging Dirk Kuyt.
Finally, Robin van Persie will start up front on his own—a decision which has reportedly deeply upset Klaas Jan-Huntelaar.
Matchups to Watch & Prediction
The Netherlands are an intimidating force for any team in the world to deal with, but their weakness remains their defense. None of the team's defenders can actually consider themselves world-class defenders, even Heitinga and Van der Wiel are better known for their offense than their defense.
If Christian Eriksen can exploit that, and Nicklas Bendtner can finish the numerous scoring opportunities he's sure to be presented with, Denmark could well spring an upset.
For the Netherlands, Denmark's defense is also their biggest weak spot. Daniel Agger is solid, but Kjaer has committed numerous defensive errors at Roma this past season and will come into the tournament low on confidence.
Poulsen and Jacobsen are decent, but they're far below the level of Ibrahim Afellay, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Rafael van der Vaart or any of the other players the Netherlands have that can play out wide.
Both defenses will be tested, but I predict that the Netherlands superior offense will allow them to test Denmark's defense more regularly and convert more scoring chances. I think Denmark will score, but the Netherlands will have too much firepower in the end.
Prediction: Netherlands 3, Denmark 1.
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