Virtuoso Elia helps stuttering Dutch find their sense of rhythm

It is an understanding that sometimes important victories do not automatically accumulate once it has been established which team has superior gifts

You wouldn't have known from the mind-numbing drone of the vuvuzela horns – its tone presumably wouldn't have changed if an oversized Rembrandt had appeared in the cold blue sky – but the Netherlands may have found an authentic Young Master.

Well, youngish. Three years ago, at the age of 20, Eljero Elia was languishing in the margins of the Dutch league. Now a star in Hamburg he may just be an authentic link with some of the more dazzling creativity of his nation's football past.

Johan Cruyff, by some distance the best player in the history of the Dutch game, raised his eyebrows when Elia turned an unusually dour Denmark into a near rabble when he came on as a 67th-minute substitute. In the league table of encouragement that may ultimately rank a lot higher than the trophy that he still shines from time to time with some ferocity ... The Johan Cruyff Young Dutch Footballer of the Year.

The late arrival of Elia, especially in the absence through lingering injury of Arjen Robben, was something of a mystery in view of his immediate impact. The Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk may not have wanted to draw too much early attention to a player who plainly has a chance of making a considerable name for himself at this World Cup.

Operating along the left, which was just one of Cruyff's launching areas for the most brilliant dismemberment of rival teams, Elia ran with beautiful poise and penetration. It was a sharp lesson for the watching Ryan Babel, another young Dutchman of superb natural ability whose own best achievements for Liverpool have tended to come in moments of isolated virtuosity. Elia, by comparison, looks like a player who knows how to apply consistent hurt to a vulnerable defence.

The one of Denmark was already in some difficulties before Elia arrived, having conceded a comic own goal when an otherwise impressive Daniel Agger could not but help Simon Poulsen's attempted clearance into his own net. Elia though demanded surrender on his own unforgiving terms. He raced beyond the Danish cover to send a superb shot against the post. Dirk Kuyt, he of the relentless spirit and unstopping legs, was there to knock in the loose ball.

The Dutch hierarchy presented it all as the kind of measured march into action you expect of a team of great talent who are being given something of a shout for a place in the shake up. "It was a good start to our campaign," said the coach, and no doubt it was as far as it went. Fabio Capello might have exchanged one of his art treasures – well, perhaps not – for such a stride into the tournament, but there was still something nagging about hints that some Dutch players believe that victory is not so much a goal as a right whenever they run on the field.

Elia shattered that impression in a mere 23 minutes and if it is a little premature – if not completely barking – to shoot him vaguely into the category of his most distinguished admirer yesterday, there was no doubt that he might just bring to a chronically under-achieving team something rather than mere exceptional ability.

It is an understanding that sometimes important victories do not automatically accumulate once it has been established which team has the more superior gifts.

Another spectator, Robben, has always shown an impressive understanding that authentic achievement tends to accompany heightened effort. In his pomp at Chelsea, Robben was asked if he was the new Cruyff. No, he said, he wouldn't attain that status if he played for another 100 years.

Cruyff was unique in Dutch football and it is a status unlikely to be threatened by any number of heirs apparent. However, also without serious comparison is the nation's ability to squander an astonishing yield of talent from a population of just 16 million.

There were times yesterday when that bleak distinction was hovering once again. However, Elia dispelled it with an urgency and a skill that suggested that the Netherlands' next opponents, Japan and Cameroon, might be in for a more perilous ride than Denmark experienced for most of yesterday's match.

Robben is expected to return against the Japanese and it's hard to imagine that Elia will not be asked to provide the other half of a wide threat of formidable proportions. Wesley Sneijder can also be relied upon to maintain the tempo of a game which did so much to deliver the Champions League to Internazionale. He was almost invariably the most relevant Dutch presence when his team lifted their game, which was not that often until the arrival of Eljero Elia.

Eljero claims to be named for the jazz singer Al Jarreau. It certainly seemed entirely appropriate yesterday. This was a footballer operating in perfect rhythm. Who knows, he might just put the Netherlands in the mood.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?