The European Championship, and indeed its inherent and ubiquitous Group of Death, wound its way onto Ukrainian soil for the first time. Whilst a flat yet characteristically-fortunate German side battled through and, eventually, broke down, a tight and well-managed Portugal in Lviv, the days earlier game was of most pertinence. It was in that tussle, between the unpredictability of Holland and the never-say-die of Denmark, that our energy and focus was concentrated. It was in that tussle that, once again, the Danish worked a miracle.
As the humidity in Kharkiv rose in coherence with wild prognostication, Holland, as they have a propensity to do, froze. Morten Olsen's Denmark were, at the onset of the game, cast as rank outsiders to whom nobody gave a prayer; which is to say that Denmark were, at the onset of the game, absolutely in their comfort zone. Never has a nation shared such an affinity with success through adversity, triumph through skepticism, glory through negativity. Never has a nation produced such a consistent and elated lineage of miracles.
In a sedate Oblast Arena, Holland began at a leisurely pace. Patrolling with a devout central midfield insurance blanket in Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, Holland were calm and undisturbed. As the game progressed however, a staunch resistance from the Danes became apparent. Marshalled by the sensational defensive display of Daniel Agger, Denmark's behemoth of a captain, Olsen's men were a force of frustration to Bert Van Marwijk's ideology. The skepticism and worry emanating from factions of the Dutch public back home became palpable in their play. Evidently, Holland did not need two deep-lying central midfield hammerheads.
Despite playing often at a tedious and tight tempo conducive with few thrills, Holland did create chances. Frequently, the wriggling of Arjen Robben, the mastery of Wesley Sneijder and the sheer force of Dutch will created an opening. Just as frequently, however, the glistening cast of a Holland striking axis so often subjected to rave reviews and praise failed. Robin Van Persie lacked confidence and conviction, faced imposingly with the spectre of awesome Klass-Jan Huntelaar lurking on the substitutes bench. Holland created many chances but, in a timeless manifestation of their quintessential problem, they packed no punch.
Dutch incompetency was Danish delight. When, on twenty-four minutes, footballing folk hero Michael Krohn-Dehli caught grasp of possession deep inside the Holland half, there seemed but little trouble. Then he started running. Unimpeded by neither a lackadaisical Heitinga nor a meagre Van Der Wiel, this industrious, creative, buzzing wide man carried on running. Checking inside, Krohn-Dehli raised eyebrows all over the continent. Letting rip a squirming drive of venom through the spread legs of Maarten Stekelenburg, Krohn-Dehli catalysed true debate and discussion. Quite unbelievably, Michael Krohn-Dehli had given Denmark the lead!
What ensued, thus, was a display of Dutch panic. Perhaps not in terms of shirking and evolving from their deeply-entrenched style and identity, but almost certainly in terms of demonstrating a thorough lack of coherent, cogent and constructive play in the final third of the field. Robben hit a post. Van Persie hit fresh air. Denmark hit a nerve.
In a second half memorable for the quickness with which the Dutch midfield tired and laboured, Holland created very little of overwhelming quality. Nullified by the outstanding defending of a fundamentally-sound Danish backline, restricted by the spectacular industry of a rigorously-drilled Danish midfield, worried by the sharp threat of a persistent Danish counter-attacking unit, Holland, to a certain degree, wilted in the early evening blaze. With a lacklustre defeat, the Netherlands now languish in a state of desperation. A defeat away from extinction is this Golden Generation.
For Denmark, this was a miracle of yore cast in the newly-created mould of modernity. Drawing from the triumph of Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League a modicum of optimism and hope, this Danish side imitated the Blues to perfection. Stifling a more technically-gifted opponent, and morphing into a happy state of reliance upon a pulsating counter-attacking threat, Denmark were able to defeat Holland in open play for the first time since 1967. In the head of Roy Hodgson, this game, this style, this result should have sewn a seed of hope and excitement. This model of defensive-orientated accomplishment works.