Kharkiv, June 8
Having started their march to the last World Cup final with a win over Denmark, Holland will bid to begin their Euro 2012 campaign in identical fashion when the teams meet in Kharkiv on Saturday.
Bert van Marwijk’s men prevailed 2-0 against Denmark in Johannesburg in June 2010, the first step on a path that eventually led to an extra-time defeat at the hands of Spain in the final a month later.
The team that van Marwijk fields at Metalist Stadium on Saturday is likely to closely resemble that which last faced the Danes two years ago and the objective remains the same -- to end a trophy drought that now stretches to 24 years.
They could not have been dealt a more testing group, with Germany and Portugal also lying in wait in Group B, and van Marwijk knows that a strong start is vital.
"It’s a big tournament and the first game for me is the most important game of the last six months," said the Netherlands coach. "When the draw was made I said it was the most important and it still is."
The Dutch thrilled in qualifying, winning nine of their 10 games, racking up 37 goals -- more than any other team -- and romping to a record 11-0 win over San Marino.
Their form in warm-up matches has been mixed, but after losing 2-1 to Bulgaria and labouring to a 2-0 defeat of Slovakia, they blew off the cobwebs with a 6-0 rout of Northern Ireland in Amsterdam last weekend.
Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, coming off the finest season of his career, scored twice and made two more goals in that last match and is set to spearhead van Marwijk’s 4-2-3-1 formation against Denmark.
It means a place on the bench for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, despite the fact he scored 12 goals to van Persie’s six in qualifying and netted 29 times for Schalke to finish as the top scorer in the Bundesliga.
The 28-year-old has admitted to feeling "disappointed and angry" at his likely omission, raising the spectre of the rifts that have undermined Dutch performances at previous tournaments, but Wesley Sneijder insists there is harmony in the squad.
"We are fine," the Inter Milan playmaker told reporters. "There are no fights. We’ve been together in this team for a long time so there are no problems."
Van Marwijk says that Joris Mathijsen has only a 20 percent chance of playing due to a hamstring injury, so Wilfred Bouma and Ron Vlaar will compete for the right to partner John Heitinga in central defence.
Having started two of the three warm-up games, 18-year-old newcomer Jetro Willems is in line to play at left-back, which would make him the youngest player ever to grace the tournament. The PSV Eindhoven youngster was born in 1994 -- two years after Denmark’s shock success at Euro 92 and six years after Holland last lifted a major trophy at Euro 88.
Morten Olsen’s Denmark lost 3-1 to Brazil in their first warm-up game before completing their preparations with a 2-0 win over Australia, albeit one in which striker Nicklas Bendtner claimed they played "too slowly and too horizontally".
Olsen has decided to install Evian’s Stephan Andersen as his first-choice goalkeeper, rather than Anders Lindegaard of Manchester United, after Thomas Sorensen was ruled out with a back injury sustained against Brazil.
"The Netherlands have a team similar to the one we saw in South Africa," says Olsen. "They have so many talented players, but the team ethic is what makes them great.
"They might just be one of the favourites for the entire tournament, so of course they are favourites against us as well. Not to say that we will be giving up in advance -- we will take every chance we get."
Denmark fell at the group phase in South Africa but impressed in qualifying, topping their group above Portugal after beating Cristiano Ronaldo and co 2-1 in Copenhagen in their final match.