The opening fixture in the group of death pits two of the competitions former winners in a ‘neither-team-can-afford-to-lose’ clash.
The game also brings together a clash of arguably Europe’s best playmaker and one of the pretenders to the throne. Wesley Sneijder has had an indifferent season for Inter Milan, but has recently shown signs of the form that made him the Netherlands key performer of a side that finished runners-up to Spain at the last World Cup. On the other hand Denmark’s playmaker Christian Eriksen has had a great season for Ajax as they clinched the Eredevisie for the second time in 2 years. Both Sneijder and Eriksen are products of the Ajax Youth Academy and will be the focal point of each side’s attacking endeavours when the teams square up in the Group B opener.
The similarities in style are telling. Both can unlock defences , score goals, dribble and are dead ball experts. Eriksen has more pace, bur Sneijders’ experience and the fact that the Dutch have other match-winners, gives them the edge. For the Danes to do well in this tournament, and doing well may just be getting to the knock-out phase, then Eriksen will have to have a good tournament. The Danes are well organised, but functional. Their 4-2-3-1 formation mirrors that of the Dutch and is designed to allow Eriksen to pull the strings in midfield. To say the team is built around him is no exaggeration. If Eriksen doesn’t play well then it will be difficult to see how the Danes can get out of the group. That’s a huge burden for a 20 year old.
The Netherlands aren’t so reliant on one man, blessed as they are with potential match winners in Van Persie, Robben as well as Sneijder. Expect the Dutch to dominate possession whilst the Danes will try and hit them on the break. Niklas Bendtner plays as the lone striker but will be supported from the flanks by 2 wingers, including Denis Rommedahl who seems to have been around for ever. The Danes strength is their organisation and ability to soak up pressure. However if the Dutch can nullify Eriksen, then they should be able to neutralise any attacking intent the Danes might have. Eriksen has been largely anonymous in the Danes last 2 games and the Danres have struggled as a result. Daniel Agger and co could be in for a busy evening if the Dutch hit their stride and may struggle to deal with the pace and fluidity of the Dutch attack.
These sides met in their opening group game in South Africa 2010 and the Dutch ran out 2-0 winners. A similar result can be anticipated, but if Eriksen can perform, the Danes will fancy their chances. This could be an intriguing contest.