Dutch win but lack Robben sparkle

JOHANNESBURG - Arjen Robben sat out Netherlands' laboured opening 2-0 World Cup win over Denmark but coach Bert van Marwijk must hope his injured wing maestro will return soon to ignite some missing spark in coming games.

Even without Robben, the Dutch boast a formidable forward line but they failed to catch fire against lacklustre opposition and it took a farcical own goal to break the deadlock.

Only in the dying minutes, did the Dutch produce some of the relaxed and positive football they showed in qualifying.

It was a long time coming, though, and even Dirk Kuyt's late second could not hide the fact this was not a memorable performance from a nation famous for some of the best ever teams to grace World Cup finals.

With Robben due back soon, a weak-looking Cameroon and Japan awaiting in Group E, and their feared strikers barely breaking sweat on Monday, the Dutch must hope the best is to come.

Their fans certainly hope so - and, to be fair, it is still very early days.

Since the 1970s, the Netherlands have produced silky teams who have entertained and won the affection of football-lovers around the globe but failed to bring home the World Cup.

Only Ruud Gullit's 1988 European Championship winners have done it on a major international stage.


Like his predecessors, coach Bert van Marwijk has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in his attacking "Big Four".

As well as Robben - whose dribbling can rival Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo on his day - the Netherlands have Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart to torment their opponents.

But without Robben pulling the strings, those three failed really to impress on Monday against Denmark, only Elia providing some missing sparkle when he came on in the second half.

Van Marwijk will no doubt blame the ball - he has been moaning about the high-bouncing Jabulani ball, the pitches and the vuvuzela horns at South Africa 2010.

Certainly, as in other games so far during the tournament, there were more balls flying high and wide over the bar on Monday than would be expected from such top players.

Van Persie used the cacophony of noise from the vuvuzelas cleverly to his advantage at one point, convincing the referee not to book him for playing on after the whistle by pointing at the crowd. Other players will perhaps copy that tactic.

For Denmark, it was yet more disappointment. They have failed to beat the Dutch in open play in 43 years, though they did ditch them out of Euro 92 on penalties.

The Danes roamed and harried, but failed to break down a well organised Dutch defence and midfield.

Nicklas Bendtner - whom coach Morten Olsen had said would not be playing in a possible pre-match bluff - saw few sniffs of goal and was substituted after a disappointing display.

Without him, though, there was little threat, and Olsen will be wondering where his goals can come from.

After the World Cup's first Europe-only clash, the Danes will be keen to forget about Monday's game but should fancy their chances agains