Warsaw: Anything but a victory over Denmark would be a minor disaster for Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and their Netherlands teammates on Saturday.
They all know the deal: As runners-up in the 2010 World Cup, they can’t claim success this time around unless they return to Amsterdam with the European Championship trophy.
Failing to beat the Danes in their first Group B match would complicate things to say the least, with Germany and Portugal left to play in the most challenging group of the competition.
If football followed logic, Denmark would stand little chance on Saturday. The Danes simply cannot match the individual brilliance of orange-shirted superstars like Robben, Van Persie or Wesley Sneijder.
The name that commands the most respect in Denmark’s roster is probably Kasper Schmeichel. And that’s not because of his role as third-choice goalkeeper, but the fact that he’s the son (and spitting image) of Peter Schmeichel, the former Denmark and Manchester United great.
The two teams have a similar style based on possession, speed on the flanks and marksmanship from their center forwards.
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk’s toughest choice is whether to use Van Persie or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as center forward. One was the top scorer in the Premier League last season, and the other topped the scoring charts in the German Bundesliga and in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Denmark coach Morten Olsen has little firepower besides Nicklas Bendtner, who was on loan at Sunderland last season after failing to make regular starts at Arsenal.
Should anything happen to Bendtner, who says he’s entering Euro 2012 in great shape, Olsen’s alternatives up front are not exactly awe-inspiring: Groningen striker Nicklas Pedersen and Tobias Mikkelsen of Danish club Nordsjaelland. Neither has ever scored a goal for Denmark.
The teams are more evenly matched in midfield, where Sneijder’s playmaking prowess is up against that of the hugely promising Danish youngster, Christian Eriksen. The Dutch team knows the danger posed by the 20-year-old Ajax man, who will be looking for a big-stage breakthrough in Ukraine and Poland.
Heitinga’s center back partner Joris Mathijsen is almost certain to miss out on Saturday due to a left hamstring injury. Possible replacements are Wilfred Bouma — soon 34 and not the quickest player in the team — and Ron Vlaar, who didn’t play a single Euro 2012 qualifier.
In the other game of the night, Germany coach Joachim Loew is picking losers to become winners.
Loew appears ready to fashion his team at the European Championship around a Bayern Munich contingent which lost out to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga title race before being beaten by Chelsea on penalties in the Champions League final.
Loew’s players from Dortmund, which won a second straight German title, may have to be content with places on the bench.
Several Dortmund players were given tryouts in the 5-3 loss to Switzerland in a friendly last month, when the Bayern group still hadn’t joined the squad. All had disappointing matches, including center back Mats Hummels, who probably had the best chance of making the starting lineup.
That just might have strengthened Loew’s resolve to stick with his regulars from Bayern who were at a terrible low after the Chelsea loss at the Allianz Arena.
Instead of Hummels, Loew may go with Bayern’s Holger Badstuber and Per Mertesacker of Arsenal as his two center backs, although the latter has not played a competitive match since February.
And by moving Lahm to left back, Loew has taken away Borussia defender Marcel Schmelzer’s only chance of playing.
Dortmund’s teenage midfielder Mario Goetze could see action, but only off the bench.
BDST: 1641 HRS, June 12, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
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