Netherlands vs. Denmark: 5 Key Tactical Battles the Danes Need to Win
Saturday will see Denmark enter Euro 2012, beginning their campaign against one of the pre-tournament favourites, the Netherlands.
Group B is the sole group in which all of the four sides currently reside in the top 10 of the FIFA world rankings, meaning the competition and quality on show should prove particularly viewable.
This contest serves as an appetizer for Germany against Portugal, and with such highly ranked teams squaring off, each side will want to hit the ground running come Saturday.
Rank outsiders to make the quarterfinals, the Danes must look to triumph in these five clashes to have any chance of taking points off the Dutch.
Arjen Robben vs. Simon Poulsen
On their left, Denmark are set to face a siege, with Arjen Robben looking to cut in and shoot as often as possible, thereby also freeing up space for the ever-willing running of Gregory van der Wiel outside him.
Generally starting in left-midfield for Denmark, Michael Krohn-Dehli will most likely be tasked with tracking any of van der Wiel's forays forward. Behind him, Simon Poulsen is now the Danes' first choice left-back again, at least since Nicolai Boilersen's injury.
Poulsen's natural instincts draw him forward at any opportunity, and his strengths as a fullback lie mainly in these attacking tendencies, traits that should be one of Denmark's primary concerns for Saturday.
If their left-back does stray out of position, even momentarily, Robben's presence will attract the attention of left centre-back, Daniel Agger, who himself would be drawn out.
A certain Robin van Persie would then be alarmingly isolated, with just the one remaining centre-back left to marshal him—an issue we shall come to.
For this reason, it has been suggested in some Danish papers that the more defensively disciplined Michael Silberbauer could be used to play against Robben and solidify Morten Olsen's rear guard.
Whoever does feature, shackling Robben has to be the fundamental task of Denmark's left-back, over any saunters forward.
Robin Van Persie vs. Daniel Agger
As mentioned, Robin van Persie is likely to be spearheading his country's efforts from a central position—although Klaas-Jan Huntelaar may also feature at some stage, dragging Arsenal's front man wider or deeper.
The Dutch team is truly littered with attacking talent, with most attacking berths occupied by world-class talent. Without the ball, each Danish player must be diligent, disciplined and have faith in his fellow teammates to do their jobs.
Any kind of positional indiscipline will allow the Dutch to locate a free man and easily carve through the Danish defence.
Daniel Agger is his country's leader, and performed well at an underachieving Liverpool this season. He has already been anticipating his high-class duel with van Persie, questioning his opposite man's pace and heading ability.
Despite his club's shortcomings, Liverpool were still solid at the back last season, ranking as the third-best defensive unit in the Premier League. Agger was very much part of that, and on paper he one of the best-equipped defenders to stick to and suppress the threat of van Persie.
Yet this may also prove to be his most challenging instruction.
If he looks to his left and sees Simon Poulsen struggling against Arjen Robben, or sees Wesley Sneijder terrorising the Danish midfield ahead of him, he will feel an urge to intervene.
This would leave van Persie lurking in far too much space, and would be exactly what the Netherlands hoped for. Denmark's best hopes of getting a result will come if Agger keeps van Persie quiet.
Wesley Sneijder vs. William Kvist and Niki Zimling
Denmark will most likely line up with two defensively minded midfielders in William Kvist and Niki Zimling. Their primary goal will be to stifle Wesley Sneijder and any other central midfielder that looks to roam forward.
Both players are capable internationals, with Stuttgart's Kvist a particularly underrated performer, not on the radar of so many football fans. He has been impressive for Copenhagen over many seasons, and performed so consistently in his first season at Stuttgart last year.
Kvist and Zimiling must work in tandem to disjoint their opponent's rhythm, and not allow the Dutch midfield to dictate the tempo of the game. They must press, hassle and harry, regain possession where possible, and then conscientiously use it when building their own attacks.
If they can disrupt Sneijder, they will drastically slow down their opponent's passing and moving, limiting elements of damage the Dutch offence can inflict.
Nicklas Bendtner vs. Johnny Heitinga
Switching to offensive contests, Nicklas Bendtner will perform a critical role for his country by leading the line, most probably against Johnny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen.
As much as his side would crave some of his best finishing qualities to be on display, arguably his ball retention and hold-up play as a target man may prove even more crucial to his nation's prospects.
Likely to be without the ball for long periods of the match, when Denmark do gain possession there may well be several instances where they choose to momentarily relieve the pressure and take a punt on a long ball forward.
In this game, this often berated strategy may prove effective, and certainly not as much of a gamble as it sometimes can be. Bendtner stands almost four inches taller than both Dutch centre-backs, and this height advantage should be exploited when possible.
If Bendtner can win the ball, keep possession long enough to link up with an attacking midfielder bombing forward, or even just draw a foul from his shorter adversaries challenging him, he will be doing his job well.
The longer Denmark can keep the play in the Dutch half of the field the better.
Christian Eriksen vs. Mark Van Bommel
Denmark's golden boy, Christian Eriksen, will need to be at his very best if his side are to take points from the Dutch.
At just 20, many are expecting him to truly announce himself on the world stage at this tournament. Despite his youth, the attacking midfielder will be charged with producing the majority of his side's creative ingenuity.
In possession, with only Bendtner likely to be ahead of him, it is doubtful Eriksen will be looking for too many through balls to the target man. The wiser tactic would be to play in Dennis Rommedahl or Michael Krohn-Dehli on the flanks, to cross and capitalise on Bendtner's height advantage.
Elsewhere, Eriksen must be prompt getting up the field, linking up with any long balls played up to the striker, looking to make incisive breaks to disrupt the Dutch defence.
The Netherlands' coach, Bert van Marwijk, has been heavily criticised for partnering Mark van Bommel with Nigel de Jong in midfield, with some in the media claiming this is far too defensive.
If this proves to be the partnership, it may hinder the Dutch offence slightly, but Eriksen's task of unlocking their defence will prove a far harder challenge.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, follow me on Twitter for more football chat.