With Denmark’s win over the Netherlands, Group B’s standings have been turned upside down. Denmark was expected to be the group minnow, while the Dutch were one of the tournament favorites.
Their performance in Kharkiv, though, severely hurts their chances of getting through to the quarterfinals. In Euro 2008, no team with at least four points failed to get through the group stage, so the Dutch need results in each of their final two games. A loss against Portugal or Germany would be devastating.
However, Portugal and Germany are both ranked in the top 10 in the world according to both ESPN’s SPI rankings and the FIFA rankings. A victory—or even a draw—in those matches are not sure things.
For a better result, the Dutch will certainly have to tighten up the back four. Leading into the tournament, defense was the big problem for the Netherlands, and Denmark certainly exposed it. John Heitinga was better going forward than defending, while Gregory van der Wiel, Ron Vlaar, and Jetro Willems were nonexistent for much of the game.
The Dutch calling card is goal-scoring though, and they were embarrassingly impotent in front of goal. Starting Robin van Persie ahead of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was a bold move considering Huntelaar’s form, but van Persie’s versatility and ability to create chances for others makes him just as valuable as Huntelaar.
The real issue was starting two holding midfielders. Neither Nigel de Jong nor Mark van Bommel were particularly effective defending because the Danes rampaged down the touchlines, and de Jong did not get forward very much either. Moving van Persie out wide and starting Huntelaar instead of de Jong should create better goal-scoring opportunities, which is what the Dutch will need to pull off a victory.
For Denmark, the picture is much rosier. A shocking three points against one of the best teams in the world means that four or five points is entirely within reason. Either of those figures will likely be enough to guarantee a place in the quarterfinals.
The Danes got slightly lucky, as Arjen Robben, van Persie, and Huntelaar all flubbed chances to put the Dutch on the scoreboard. That being said, though, centre-backs Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger were fantastic in keeping pressure on the Dutch playmakers and forcing mistakes.
Goalkeeper Stephan Andersen is a fill-in for the injured Thomas Sorensen, but his performance in goal did not show that. He made the saves he was called on to make, including a fantastic bold challenge on Huntelaar and van Persie in the 74th minute.
The Danes also showed a great deal of ambition going forward, as full-backs Simon Poulsen and Lars Jacobsen pushed high up the pitch late into the match.
This performance from the back line bodes very well for the Danes for the rest of the tournament. If they can put the same sort of pressure on Germany and Portugal, a result in one of those matches is certainly a possibility.
This result will have a big impact on the rest of the group. The Dutch will have to push forward in their other two games knowing that they need to win, which may allow Portugal or Germany to strike on counters and thus mess with the results even further.
It is nearly impossible to predict what will happen in a European Championship, and this group epitomizes that. Even this surprise result does not guarantee elimination for Holland or progression for Denmark because the immense talent in the group leaves everything up for grabs.