The clock is ticking down to Netherlands' first UEFA EURO 2012 game, with Denmark their opponents in Kharkiv on Saturday.
The Dutch had their game faces on at the pre-match press conference, which lasted all of ten minutes. Confident coach Bert van Marwijk always said the first match of the tournament would be the most important and so the fact that some tension was visible as he addressed the world's media was totally understandable.
Van Marwijk admits his team start as favourites against a side they beat 2-0 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup: "Denmark and the Netherlands hold no secret for one another. Of course we are the favourites and they are the underdogs. We have made two changes compared to two years ago, while Denmark have made four or five changes. But actually we are very similar. We use the same tactics."
Van Marwijk still expects a tough game: "It will be a similar duel to two years ago and a difficult match. The challenge is to get the players as sharp as they were in South Africa."
Now personally I have the feeling that the players are already razor sharp. In interviews with mainstays such as captain Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart and John Heitinga, they were all unafraid of saying that only winning the EURO would please them. When you utter such a thing, you have to be able to cope with the raised expectations.
This squad contains a generation of players who are around the age of 28; an age at which players are often considered to be at their peak. Not too old yet, physically in their prime and also experienced enough.
Van der Vaart, Heitinga, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben all played for their country at UEFA EURO 2004, while Robin van Persie, Nigel de Jong, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Stijn Schaars are from the same 1983/84 generation.
This seems to be the right moment for them to win a EURO, following in the footsteps of the Oranje's 1988 winning side containing such luminaries as Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten. At the 2010 World Cup they fell just short in the final against Spain. Now they want to finish one place better off.
But first Denmark, just like two years ago.
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