The Netherlands were once the most admired team in the world for their style of play, even though it won them nothing. Now they play a double pivot with Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel. Oh, how the times have changed.
Of course, the Netherlands still have some great attacking players and are by no means boring, but they're not the free-flowing, attacking side that everyone is used to when they hear the name of the country. They look a lot like the team they're going to play on Saturday, Denmark. Just with bigger name players who play for bigger clubs.
They're going up against a Denmark side that beat Portugal in qualifying to get here without going to a playoff, which is coincidentally the exact same way that they qualified for the 2010 World Cup. They're considered by most to be the bottom of the barrel team in this group of death, but it's a group of death because all four teams in the group are very good.
Denmark and the Netherlands play slightly different versions of the world's formation de jour, the 4-2-3-1. Both will play with a true No. 10 in front of a double pivot, but that's where their similarities end. Even though the Netherlands isn't as attacking as they used to be, they're still a pretty fluid side. Denmark will stick to their shape. The Netherlands have very attacking wingers, while Denmark's are two-way players. And, perhaps most importantly, Denmark's two defensive midfielders do not feast on the blood of infants for sustenance. They'll have to hope that someone forgets to deliver Mark and Nigel's daily supply of small children to their hotel.
Dude, where's my total football?
Go talk to a football fan who grew up in the 1970s and they'll wax poetic endlessly about Johan Cruyff and the 'Brilliant Oranje'. Even though the Netherlands has never won the World Cup and Cruyff's team never won the European Championship, they're still talked about endlessly as one of the most brilliant groups of players ever. The likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit played the same beautiful football en route to a 1988 European title. That football is dead.
You hear me? Dead.
See, the Netherlands have this problem where two of their best midfielders are nasty, kick-you-in-the-teeth, down and dirty scumbags. It doesn't really fit with the whole 'Total Football' thing the nation is famous for. So, Bert van Marwijk has decided, 'to hell with tradition, I'm building around my best players', and that got him to a World Cup final in 2010. Good for him! Karate kicks for everyone!
But wait, why do Netherlands have to play two holding midfielders? Denmark's not in their league, right?
Wrong! Denmark are actually pretty awesome. No, they don't have Arjen Robben or Robin van Persie, but Christian Eriksen is pretty darn good. The Ajax playmaker might use the Euro 2012 stage to catapult himself into the view of some of Europe's biggest clubs, though he'll have to do a lot to take the spotlight off of fellow young playmaker Alan Dzagoev. As easy as it is to make fun of Holland for being so conservative and playing two complete thugs in their midfield, it's actually a pretty good tactic for dealing with Denmark's best player.
Projected Netherlands Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maarten Stekelenberg; Jetro Willems, John Heitinga, Ron Vlaar, Gregory Van Der Wiel; Nigel De Johg, Mark van Bommel; Ibrahim Affelay, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben; Robin van Persie
Projected Denmark Lineup (4-2-3-1): Anders Lindegaard; Simon Poulsen, Simon Kjaer, Daniel Agger, Lars Jacobsen; Niki Zimling, William Kvist; Michael Krohn-Delhi, Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl; Nicklas Bendtner
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: The face of the little man who wears No. 8 for Denmark will run red with blood while the men in Orange shirts do a celebratory dance. And later Robin van Persie will score. 1-0 Netherlands.
Game Date/Time: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. local
Venue: Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN 2 (Canada)