As ever, the Dutch enter a major international tournament as marked men, increasingly so after their 1-0 extra-time loss to Spain in the World Cup final two years ago.
Could this finally be the team that turns that talent into another title?
For all the glorious players who have turned out for the Oranje over the years, the Netherlands, surprisingly, has the same amount of international crowns as its opponent Saturday, Denmark.
Of course, the Danes’ shock victory in Euro ‘92 was anything but expected, with that squad, led by legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, not even admitted into the tournament until the withdrawal of Yugoslavia at the 11th hour.
With both being drawn into the so-called ‘Group of Death’ this time, along with Germany and Portugal, a slip-up at the first hurdle could prove too much to overcome.
Netherlands’ player to watch: Robin van Persie
Despite the Dutch returning 10 of the side that started the World Cup final loss to Spain – wing-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst retired after that game – it is forward Robin van Persie who enters this tournament with the most to prove.
After being labelled with the “injury-prone” tag for much of his career, Van Persie finally cast off those shackles this past domestic season for Arsenal, exploding for 30 league goals and being named England’s Football of the Year. However, he has failed to produce that form in an international tournament, but as the focal point of one of the most prolific squads in the tournament – they scored 37 goals in just 10 games – he will never have a better chance to strut his stuff on the big stage.
Denmark’s player to watch: Christian Eriksen
One of the most highly ranked youngsters in world soccer, the 20-year-old may likely view Euro 2012 as his coming-out party. Though he has excelled in leading Ajax to the last two Eredivisie titles in Holland, the young Dane is predicted to on the move sooner than later, with powerhouses such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea all queuing up to secure his signature. Though he struggled in qualifying – he scored but one goal in eight games – the creative midfielder will be relied on to orchestrate things for Denmark in Poland and Ukraine, and a solid showing could further grease the wheels on a big-money move.
Dutch centre back Joris Mathijsen is unlikely to recover from his hamstring injury in time for the Group B encounter with Denmark in Kharkiv, likely making way for PSV Eindhoven’s Wilfred Bouma.
The Danes have no injury concerns.
“We realize this is perhaps our last chance to win a tournament,” said new Fenerbahce forward Dirk Kuyt of the current crop of players.
Did you know?
Despite not featuring in qualifying, Peter Schmeichel’s son Kasper, who plays goal for Leicester City in England’s Championship, is in the Danish squad. Should he follow in his father’s footsteps and form part of a triumphant Danish squad, they would become the first father-son duo to win the European championship.
Though the Danes haven’t officially beaten Holland since 1967, they did register a memorable triumph on their way to Euro glory in 1992, besting the fancied Dutch on penalties in the semi-final after a 2-2 draw – for international record-book purposes shootout wins officially go down as ties.
Netherlands 2-0 Denmark