‘Harmless’ Dutch now in must win mode

Denmark might be sitting pretty atop Group B with Germany but they know they must improve significantly to make a prolonged impact on Euro 2012.

Despite the famous victory on Saturday, several Danish players produced ordinary performances and if it was not for the woeful finishing of the much-vaunted Dutch forwards they could easily have conceded four or five goals.

Netherlands hit the target only eight times in 28 attempts with Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder in profligate mood and Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen said afterwards he felt the Dutch were “pretty harmless”.

The same could be said of Denmark, however, and coach Morten Olsen still has plenty of work to do.

Defender Simon Poulsen said that while the Danes were overjoyed with the result, they will have to change tack in the next encounter against a Portugal side wounded by a 1-0 loss to Germany.

“Portugal will be a different kind of opponent,” he said. “There are always good things we can focus on and there are some aspects of our play we can improve on.”

His sentiments were echoed by midfielder Niki Zimling, who recovered from a toe injury to play against the Dutch.

“There were times when they were given too much space,” he said. “We need to work on this to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

The loss of experienced goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to a back injury before the tournament was a worry for many, but his replacement Stephan Andersen came through with flying colours, making a vital late smothering save from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

“Our entire focus was on this match, now we’re shifting focus to Portugal, and naturally that’s also a game we’ll be playing to win,” Andersen said. ”

That’s what we do in every match, but it will be at least as difficult as this one was.”

It doesn’t take a tactical genius to work out what the Netherlands need to fix — they simply have to be able to convert their chances and that could mean a start for Huntelaar.

The Dutch face Group B leaders Germany on Wednesday and while their opponents have three points in the bag after a 1-0 win over Portugal, the Netherlands are already in ‘must win’ mode.

Bert van Marwijk’s team produced 28 attempts on goal but only eight were on target and midfielder Wesley Sneijder knows that ratio will have to improve against the Germans or risk an early exit.

“It’s painful. The only positive thing we can take out of this match is that we played really well at times and created lots of chances. We’ll also create chances against Germany — that’s our strength — but they have to be converted or it’s over for us,” he said.

Sneijder’s smart movement and incisive passing were on show against the workmanlike Danes but striker Robin Van Persie and winger Arjen Robben wasted a series of good openings.

“Dominating the match isn’t enough. Look what’s happened — we left empty-handed. We missed that last bit of sharpness,” said Sneijder.

“If you truly dominate a match, you don’t let your opponent get into it and you put your chances away.

“We started well, in the opening 20 minutes we should have scored a couple and then everything would have been fine. We could maybe even have then racked up more. But instead the first goal fell at the other end, and we spent the rest of the game trying to repair the damage,” he added.

Van Marwijk opted to leave Schalke 04 forward Huntelaar, the continent’s top scorer in qualifying with 12 goals in eight games, on the bench until 19 minutes from the end but he will surely consider starting the prolific striker on Wednesday.

The Dutch really should not have problems in front of goal given the pedigree of their two main strikers — Van Persie, after all, was top scorer in England’s Premier League last year while Huntelaar achieved the same in Germany’s Bundesliga.

The pairing is by no means incompatible, even within the Dutch system which utilises just one out-and-out striker with three players attacking from wider and deeper positions.

When they played together in qualifying Van Persie moved out to a wider role, cutting in from the flank, leaving Huntelaar to sniff out goals.

If Van Marwijk chooses that option then Ibrahim Affelay, who did not impress against the Danes, would be the most obvious choice to stand down.

It would be a logical move to make given the sudden urgency of a win against the Germans.

“We have to win twice now to progress — we have to, that’s a clear mission,” said midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.

“We really have to go for it now. If we had won then we knew a draw against Germany would mean we were already doing well, but now we just have to win twice.”

Subs for Denmark: Schone (6) for Eriksen (74), Mikkelsen for Rommedahl (83).

Subs for Netherlands: Van der Vaart (6) for De Jong (71), Huntelaar (6) for Afellay (71), Kuyt for an Der Wiel (84).

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