Expectations are always high for the Netherlands. Living up to them has been the problem.
A two-time runner-up, the Netherlands has its sights set on winning its first World Cup title, and it begins that quest with a rare game against Denmark on Monday in Johannesburg.
Ranked fourth by FIFA, the Netherlands is lauded for its "Total Football" philosophy and enters every tournament as a favorite, but has only the 1988 European Championship title to show for it.
The team is trying to change that in South Africa after exiting the last World Cup in the round of 16 with a 1-0 loss to Portugal.
The Netherlands suffered another letdown at Euro 2008, losing 3-1 in overtime to Russia in the quarterfinals. That early exit came after the Dutch beat world champion Italy 3-0 and 2006 World Cup finalist France 4-1 in the group phase.
Clockwork Orange returned to its dominant ways during World Cup qualifying, winning all eight games and outscoring its overmatched group rivals 17-2. That success is expected to continue in Group E, which includes Japan and Cameroon.
"I rate them very high,'' said Denmark midfielder Dennis Rommedahl, a star for Ajax in the Dutch Eredivisie. "They are probably one of the best teams in Europe in this moment. ... So we have to watch out for people in front and put down a good plan to stop them."
The Dutch, however, were dealt a serious blow June 5 when Arjen Robben suffered a hamstring injury in a 6-1 win over Hungary. He has been ruled out against Denmark.
Coach Bert van Marwijk said Saturday it was too risky for him to play Monday. He hopes Robben will be fit in time to face Japan in Durban on June 19 and Cameroon five days later.
Van Marwijk said Robben really had only one full workout and he was going to ``take it easy'' with him.
Robben's absence will put the playmaking onus on Wesley Sneijder, who has 14 goals in 61 games for the national team - one coming against Hungary. The midfielder is coming off a superb season with Inter, helping it become the first Italian team to sweep the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia titles.
Denmark, ranked 36th, is also dealing with injuries, as forward Nicklas Bendtner is nursing a hurt groin and defender Simon Kjaer is trying to recover from a knee injury. Bendtner has 11 goals in 32 games, three during qualifying, while Kjaer is considered one of the top young defenders in the world.
"We want to have him fit, we want him to do well, so of course he is a crucial player to us," midfielder Jesper Gronkjaer said of Bendtner, whom he called Denmark's "No. 1 striker."
The Danes were a modest surprise in qualifying, edging out Portugal atop their group to reach their first World Cup since 2002.
This will be the teams' fifth meeting, with the Netherlands taking the most recent matchup 3-0 during Euro 2000.