After being outmanned and outworked by Ukraine in midfield in their opening game Netherlands coach Foppe de Haan called for his side to step up a gear against Denmark in Aveiro today.
The Danes were back at the scene of their dramatic 3-3 draw with Italy less than 48 hours after trudging off the same pitch, angry with themselves for having let victory against the holders slip from their grasp. If De Haan were looking for an example to show to his players, he could have done worse than settle on Danish captain Rasmus Würtz whose performance that night had come so close to winning the game for Flemming Serritslev’s side.
Würtz, alongside Martin Bergvold, had provided the platform for a spirited Danish performance against Italy. The central midfield pair stick closely together, holding the ground in front of the back four and allowing Thomas Kahlenberg and Jonas Kamper freedom in attack. Both Würtz and Bergvold, veterans in the side at 22, also look to get forward when the occasion arises. Würtz’s strike from the edge of the area had brought Denmark back into the game at 1-1 against Italy and he tried to find his range early on against the Dutch with a shot from distance. His fierce tackle on Nicky Hofs set the tone for the midfield duel that would follow.
With Würtz and Bergvold lying deep, however, Stijn Schaars, Ismaïl Aissati and Nicky Hofs were given more time on the ball than had been available against Ukraine and this time they did what the Dutch had failed to do on Wednesday, compete in the middle of the park. Hofs had time to pick his passes, sending Patrick Gerritsen clear down the left after eight minutes as the Dutch worked their first chance of the game. Gerritsen’s cross came to nothing but the warning signs were there.
The Dutch were enjoying plenty of possession and passing the ball around nicely, but without piercing Würtz and Bergvold’s defensive shield until seven minutes before the break. Hofs this time sent Daniël de Ridder into space on the right and he picked out Klaas Jan Huntelaar who easily converted his low cross. It was a familiar position for the Danes, who two nights previously against Italy had also had to chase the game. They responded with character that night and did so again here. Würtz and Bergvold held their ground, but the solid base they provided allowed Denmark to push higher up the wings, which ultimately brought its reward when Kamper crossed for Kahlenberg to fire in the equaliser three minutes into the second half.
Against Italy Denmark's first goal eased their nerves and proved the platform from which they took the game to the Azzurrini. Like they had on Tuesday, Denmark's midfield again assumed command but they would have to settle for another draw. In a hot afternoon sun, tiredness was taking its toll. After two strong performances in the space of 48 hours, though, Serritslev’s side can look ahead to Monday’s Group B finale against Ukraine with every hope of claiming a semi-final place.
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