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Old June 13, 2010, 11:33 PM
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al-Sagar al-Sagar is offline
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Default Netherlands v Denmark Preview

Oranje aim to banish Danish demons of '92

Frequently labelled as perennial World Cup underachievers, Bert van Marwijk's Netherlands side take to the 2010 finals looking, once again, to shed that particular monkey off their back. And just as in tournaments gone by, they appear to have a squad possessing enough quality to mount a serious challenge.

The Oranje certainly have players capable of turning a game on its head with a moment of creative brilliance. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder helped guide their respective club sides to the Champions League final, earning widespread praise for their influential displays and the Netherlands have been in fine goalscoring form during their warm-up games, scoring 12 goals in three victories over Mexico, Ghana and Hungary. But their defensive frailties remain and the likes of Joris Mathijsen and Johnny Heitinga do not inspire massive confidence at the back.

The 2010 Group E opener pits Van Marwjik's side against the nation they beat 3-0 during the group stage of Euro 2000 but, more famously, lost to in the semi-finals of Euro '92 - Denmark.

Since that victory in 1992, Denmark have flattered to deceive at major tournaments - aside from a quarter-final run at the 1998 World Cup that was ended after a narrow 3-2 defeat by Brazil - and missed out on qualification for both the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. This time round, they will be relishing a return to the global arena and Morten Olsen's side have reason to be optimistic after an impressive qualification campaign, which saw them record away wins against both Sweden and Portugal.

Denmark's build-up has been poor, though, with a win against Senegal sandwiched by defeats against Austria, Australia and South Africa - and Olsen, who has been at the helm for ten years, must use all his experience to inspire improved performances from his side at the finals.

Netherlands player in focus: Wesley Sneijder. One of the best players in Europe last season, Sneijder was the midfield mastermind behind Inter Milan's Champions League triumph. His career has been resurrected at the San Siro after he struggled to make an impression at Real Madrid - despite starring for Netherlands at Euro 2008. With a keen eye for an incisive pass, Sneijder will be creator-in-chief for the Dutch and opponents should beware his accurate delivery from set-pieces, and superb shooting ability from distance.

Denmark player in focus: Christian Poulsen. After enduring a torrid season with Juventus, Poulsen will be relishing playing with a group of players who may actually resemble a team. A tough-tackling midfielder, his presence will be crucial in ensuring the likes of Sneijder and Van der Vaart don't see too much of the ball. Keep an eye on his temper though, he has a rather chequered disciplinary history.

Key battle: Robin van Persie v Daniel Agger. Van Persie has looked backed to his clinical best since returning to the national team, bagging four goals in the Oranje's three warm-up games. After missing a large chunk of Arsenal's season, despite an apparent visit to the Serbian placenta clinic, Van Persie now looks fresh and ready to spearhead Van Marwjik's forward line at the finals. Standing in his way for Denmark is Liverpool's Daniel Agger. Injury has kept his profile under the radar, but he has proved a commanding presence at the back for his country when he has played. His aerial ability isn't great, but he's more than capable of matching RVP on the ground.

Trivia: Aged just 18 years and three months old when the tournament starts, Denmark's Christian Eriksen will be the youngest player at the 2010 World Cup, narrowly ahead of Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon, and the youngest in his side by almost three years (Simon Kjaer was born on March 26, 1989)

Stats: The Netherlands have lost only one of their last 12 group stage matches at World Cup finals (against Belgium in 1994).

Odds: Netherlands (1.53), the draw (4.00), Denmark (6.50) with Bet365. Netherlands to lead at half-time, but a draw at full-time is priced attractively at 19.00.

Prediction: This could well be the game that decides who wins the group and so could prove to be a tight encounter, despite Netherlands plethora of attacking talent. Having faced Portugal in qualifying, Denmark showed themselves to be adept at handling teams full of forward flair and their organisation will be key again in this one. If the Danes stay disciplined, a draw is on the cards.
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