Inevitably there were moments of the highest class, at times even a touch of surreal beauty, but in some vital respects the new masters of Dutch football are pretty much like the old.
So often they leave the killing to others – on this occasion a respected but hardly lauded striker from Denmark – and then look back to all those lost possibilities. No three more talented performers than Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and, supremely Robin van Persie, will ever do it more bitterly if this disaster remains unredeemed against the weight of Germany and the potential of Portugal's Cristiano Ronald to turn any game in which he finds himself.
Van Persie, in this season of maximum career opportunity, will be haunted by his failure to do that on which he has built his prodigious reputation, a touch here, a strike there, some predatory move which can undermine opponents.
Last night the invitation came repeatedly – as Holland outshot Denmark by a massive 27 to seven going into the last desperate moments – but each time the opportunity slipped by.
Robben seemed locked in the disappointment of his second failure to turn a Champions League final in favour of his Bayern Munich. Sneijder seemed no more than a ghost of the man who did it for Jose Mourinho in the colours of Internazionale.
It has been said of the Dutch that they could wake up one morning bored with the hotel décor and promptly go on strike. Certainly it is true that while an emotionally unstable team – just one European title and three World Cup final defeats through all the glorious years – might fairly claim a more serious psychological buffeting going into this opening of the Group of Death, they once again seemed intent on making some of their own problems.
The trauma of training ground monkey chants was not sufficient, apparently, to prevent coach Bert van Marwijk putting his faith in one of the victims, 18-year-old Jetro Willems, who was picked at left-back as the youngest ever Euro performer, and there was an impressive swagger to the early work of the team which went into such drastic creative hibernation right from the start of the last World Cup final.
So was this the starting point for redemption which came so gloriously in this tournament in 1988, when Marco van Basten announced himself as one of the greatest strikers in the history of the game?
Van Persie, in whom many of the world's great clubs, we are relentlessly informed, see the same potential, had the chance to make a similar impact last night – but three times he made something of a parody of the finishing which made him the scourge of the Premier League last season. Sneijder twice opened up the Danish defence, and twice Van Persie inexplicably failed to pull the trigger, the second time at a potentially pivotal point when the Dutch, wounded by the first-half strike of Michael Khohn-Dehli, resumed in a frenzy of aggression. Sneijdner opened up the way in his most clinical mode. But Van Persie froze – again.
There was a terrible irony in this for an increasingly concerned Marwijk. In the first half Van Persie had crafted a beautiful cross for Sneijder, who couldn't produce the required conviction. Van Persie also sent in Robben with a wonderful feint and pass but with the same result.
Inevitably, the Dutch were touched by desperation. This had the usual consequence when Mark van Bommel earned his latest yellow card. The Danish reaction was to continue to play the polished, resilient football at the centre of which they have longed planned a starring role for the promising Ajax 20-year-old Christian Eriksen. This was not his most dominating night, however, and when the pressure built in the second half veteran coach Morten Olsen replaced him with the older and maybe stronger Lasse Schone. Van Marwijk had other priorities as he withdrew Nigel de Jong and Ibrahim Afellay and sent in Rafael van der Vaart for his intelligence and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for his touch around goal.
The initiative, like all else that the Dutch tried, drained away. In the end the Danes, one of the most under-rated football nations, had something to spare.
Once again the Dutch had sought out still another disaster of their own troubled making.
Holland (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel (Kuyt, 84), Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems; Van Bommel, De Jong (Van der Vaart, 71); Robben, Sneijder, Afellay (Huntelaar, 71); van Persie.
Denmark (4-2-3-1): Andersen; Kjaer, Jacobsen, Agger, Poulsen; Kvist, Zimling; Krohn-Dehli, Eriksen (Schone, 74), Rommedahl (Mikkelsen, 83); Bendtner.
Referee Damir Skomina (Slovakia).Reuse content