KHARKIV: The Dutch players could be forgiven for not being totally focussed on their Danish opponents when they open their Euro 2012 campaign tonight.
For having had their black players subjected to racist chanting at a training session at their Polish base, they will be fearful that similar episodes will occur here, amid publicly aired fears of far-right gangs at Ukrainian grounds. Should such an incident arise, Dutch captain Mark van Bommel has made it clear that they will not stand for it.
“During the tournament, if any one of us is confronted with such a thing, we’ll immediately go to the referee to ask him to intervene,” said the veteran AC Milan midfielder.
Referees have already been put on notice by UEFA chief Michel Platini that they can stop a match should such incidents arise, so it will only add to the tension at the match.
Should things go smoothly, though, the Dutch will hope for a repeat of their progress to the 2010 World Cup final which started with a win over Denmark.
“It’s a big tournament and the first game for me is the most important game of the last six months,” said the Netherlands coach. “When the draw was made I said it was the most important and it still is.”
Morten Olsen’s Denmark lost 3-1 to Brazil in their first warm-up game before completing their preparations with a 2-0 win over Australia, albeit one in which striker Nicklas Bendtner claimed they played ‘too slowly and too horizontally’.
Olsen has decided to install Evian’s Stephan Andersen as his first-choice goal-keeper, rather than Anders Lindegaard of Manchester United, after Thomas Sorensen was ruled out with a back injury sustained against Brazil.
“The Netherlands have a team similar to the one we saw in South Africa,” says Olsen. “They have so many talented players, but the team ethic is what makes them great. They might just be one of the favourites for the entire tournament, so of course they are favourites against us as well. Not to say that we will be giving up in advance — we will take every chance we get.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.
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