Danish dynamite, only briefly threatening a minor explosion in the opening Group E game, was soon found to be powder-puff by a Dutch side who could cause a big bang of their own in this tournament. Defence may yet prove to be the Oranje's weak point, but even with Nicklas Bendtner passed fit enough to play for an hour, the back-line was barely tested.
Overall, it was a stuttering game, offering indications that problems with the ball and altitude could have a detrimental effect on the tournament.
Unlike England's game in the cool of the evening, a lunchtime kick-off meant temperatures approaching 20°C in bright sunshine and, for whatever reasons, neither team played at their preferred tempo.
Dirk Kuyt, who scored the second goal with a tap-in –after an own goal caused by Simon Poulsen and credited to his Liverpool team-mate Daniel Agger, confirmed that playing at over 5,000 feet – Johannesburg's two grounds are the highest being used – caused problems. "If you make two quick sprints you really feel it," he said.
His team's sourpuss coach Bert van Marwijk – having first corrected the Fifa official's pronunciation of his name – blamed the ball and the pitch, which, he said, should have been watered more and was "not good for our play". Considering that, he was more than satisfied with the improvement in the second half, which began with the immediate gift of the own goal. Robin van Persie did well to keep the ball in play and cross; Poulsen, Denmark's left-back, attempted to head for a corner and might have succeeded had the ball not struck Agger on the back and looped past goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
The Danes had matched up with their opponents' 4-2-3-1 and had slightly the better chances until then. From Agger's crossfield pass – one of the few with this football that didn't sail or bounce into touch – Dennis Rommedahl chipped onto the head of Bendtner, who should have done better than nod down and wide. Bendtner then sent Thomas Kahlenberg through for a shot that forced Maarten Stekelenburg into conceding a corner. The Netherlands were reduced to half chances, often created by a sharp turn by the other Arsenal striker, Van Persie. Settled by the goal, however, they demonstrated some of their potential, with Nigel de Jong and Marc van Bommel solid as the holding midfielders, while Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart (the injured Arjen Robben's replacement) and Van Persie tried to prove they can play together without crowding each other out. It was more of a problem early on, even when the former pair repeatedly switched positions, but by half-time they seemed to have worked things out.
The other significant factor was the introduction of a thrilling substitute in Eljero Elia, the Hamburg winger whose pace troubled Fulham in the Europa League final. Replacing Van der Vaart, he had an electrifying effect and deserved a goal. Instead, played through by Sneijder, he rolled his shot against a post, allowing Kuyt to knock in the rebound.
"The Dutch team have some wonderful players and a player who can come on and do something on his own," said an admiring Danish coach Morten Olsen. Everything else he said, apart from bemoaning the injuries that forced him to change plans and use Bendtner for an hour, concerned the difference between the first half, in which his side showed up well, and the second, in which they failed to make a chance.
"I wasn't bluffing about Bendtner, I wasn't going to play him," he explained. "Then yesterday we had injuries to Jon Dahl Tomasson and Daniel Jensen.
"We had reasonably good control of the first half with a couple of very good chances. The timing of the first goal was a boost for the Dutch team. They can be world-class. We have to use players with a Danish passport and we are a small nation."
At full strength, Denmark will hope to finish above Japan and Cameroon for what ought to be a second-round match against Italy. The Netherlands, unbeaten now in 20 games since September 2008, will not expect that record to be threatened until at least the quarter-final when they are scheduled to meet Brazil.
Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst; Van Bommel, De Jong (De Zeeuw, 88); Kuyt, Sneijder, Van der Vaart (Elia, 67); Van Persie (Afellay, 76).
Denmark (4-2-3-1): Sorensen; Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S Poulsen; C Poulsen, Jorgensen; Rommedahl, Kahlenberg (Eriksen, 73), Enevoldsen (Gronkjaer, 56); Bendtner (Beckmann, 62).
Referee: S Lannoy (France).