NPR logo On The Dutch: A Win’s A Win, But Beauty And Brilliance Can’t Hurt


On The Dutch: A Win’s A Win, But Beauty And Brilliance Can’t Hurt

The Dutch got some help from the Denmark's Daniel Agger, who deflected a ball past his own keeper.  Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images hide caption

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Hmm, what was that I said yesterday the beauty and brilliance of Dutch soccer? Its reputation was turned upside down in Johannesburg today: Oranje looked neither brilliant nor beautiful in its first game, but delivered the goods with a 2-0 victory over Denmark. And there were occasional glimmers of Dutch dazzle —thanks mainly to some real menace from substitute Eljero Elia, and a late goal he helped Dirk Kuyt secure.

After some reasonably pretty passing from the Dutch early on, the Danish squad seemed prepped to thwart them in a largely lackluster first half — though Oranje managed to dominate, at least in possession. Unsurprisingly, Nicklas Bendtner looked like the most dangerous Dane on the pitch, but no one on either side really impressed for the first forty-five minutes.

And then, right at the start of the second half, there was an episode so peculiar it took those of us watching at the Black Horse a few moments to process what the heck had happened: Denmark’s Simon Poulsen tried to clear a cross from Dutchman Robin van Persie; instead it hit his teammate Daniel Agger and proceeded right into the net. Agger seemed to take the own goal in admirably good humor and at least it was, as a fellow spectator quipped, “a real team effort” from the Danes.

But that’s no way for the Dutch to win a match! Oranje picked up the pace when they switched out Rafael van der Vaart for 23-year-old Elia, who showed intelligence, confidence and speed from the get-go. Near the 85th minute, his nervy shot bounced off the post — giving Kuyt the opportunity to tap in a real goal for Holland and finally lend a bit of dignity to the whole affair.

“A win’s a win,” a fellow Oranje fan at the bar said sleepily, in a rather un-Dutch cast of mind. “I’m thrilled!” enthused another. But my friend Karin, a Netherlands native, is more characteristically critical:  To triumph in the competition, she opined, “We need more conviction and team performance.” She’s absolutely right. A little more beauty and brilliance wouldn’t hurt either.