JOHANNESBURG, June 13- The Netherlands open their World Cup campaign against Denmark on Monday determined to brush off their tag of group phase heroes, knock-out stage zeros, but the Danes are hoping for an upset.
The Oranje have never won the World Cup, but reached the finals of both the 1974 and 1978 tournaments playing their brand of flowing football and are favourites to win Group E here.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk has an embarrassment of riches in his squad for the clash at Johannesburg’s Soccer City with the likes of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart and Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder.
The challenge for this Dutch side is to secure a comfortable victory over Denmark and win the group which also includes Cameroon and Japan, then carry that early form into the knock-out stages.
But the Danes are not here to make up the numbers, as Liverpool defender Daniel Agger insisted.
"There are four teams in the group and everybody’s competing for those top two places, not only Holland," the 25-year-old told FIFA.com.
"A team like us is always going out to win and it’s the same against Holland. We’ll be trying to win the game."
But his team-mate Jesper Gronkjaer said the Danish have a tough assignment.
"They are surely one of the favourites to win the World Cup. It will be a hard task for us, even though we will be going in to win the game," said the Copenhagen winger.
"If we can get something out of the game, we will be happy."
The Dutch are notoriously strong in the group stages: at Euro 2008, they saw off both 2006 World Cup finalists Italy and France in style, only to fall to a shock defeat to Russia in the quarter-finals.
But they are determined not to repeat such mistakes in South Africa.
"Normally we play good football, but don’t get very far," said midfielder Mark van Bommel.
"This time I think we can play good football and be successful."
His optimism stems in part from the fact that many of the Dutch squad are with top European clubs and are two years wiser than Euro 2008.
"The lads want to win all the time. That, coupled with the Dutch philosophy of good football, is a winning combination," said Van Bommel.
The Dutch are almost sure to be without Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, who arrived in Johannesburg on Saturday after receiving treatment for his thigh strain.
But they will still have an impressive strike force led by Arsenal’s Van Persie.
Little has been said at this World Cup about Denmark, but they command respect for winning their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, having beaten the hosts 3-2 in Lisbon back in September 2008.
Their form coming into this tournament has been far from impressive with warm-up defeats to both Australia and South Africa in recent weeks, while in contrast Holland beat Ghana, Hungary and the United States with ease.
Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner looks to be fit to face the Dutch having been out of action since May after suffering a groin injury.
With Coach Morten Olsen, the Danes finished two points clear of Portugal in qualifying and will rely heavily on the likes of Thomas Sorensen, Lars Jacobsen and Bendtner.
Stoke City’s goalkeeper Sorensen is likely to have a busy time containing the Oranje’s attack while just in front of him Blackburn Rovers defender Lars Jacobsen will be marshalling the defence.
Key to match
The Danish defence – and goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen in particular – is likely to have a tough time keeping the Dutch strike force of Van Persie, Sneijder and Van der Vaart at bay. If the Danish defence can hold out, Bendtner will need to perform at the other end.