Top-scorers? What top-scorers? Dutch ask
In the great Dutch goalscoring debate before Euro 2012, the only question was 'who' was going to score: Robin van Persie or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The question was never 'whether' they were going to score.
But on a night of stunning futility in Saturday's 1-0 loss to Denmark, the two couldn't manage a goal together for almost half an hour after Huntelaar was thrown into the game alongside failing starter Van Persie.
The Dutch strikers weren't the only flops on the second day of the European Championship.
Cristiano Ronaldo again failed to deliver at the highest level for his country as Portugal lost to Germany 1-0 in the other match in Group B, arguably the toughest of Euro 2012.
The group was supposed to be hard on defenses, not on the strikers.
Though many big names were struggling, nowhere were the problems more evident than among the Dutch. They created one chance after another in sticky conditions in eastern Ukraine, all to no avail.
''It wasn't only Robin van Persie. There were maybe four, five, six players who had a lot of chances,'' coach Bert van Marwijk said. Yet it was the coach's decision to start with the Arsenal forward who finished as the Premier League's top scorer last season - instead of Huntelaar, the German Bundesliga's top marksman.
Instead, their best efforts were outshone by Michael Krohn-Dehli, a journeyman player from Denmark's Brondby.
Virtually unknown before he picked up a loose ball close to the penalty area in the 24th minute, Krohn-Dehli left two defenders standing and shot through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg from a tight angle to earn himself a place in the spotlight.
''It is miraculous how the Danes won,'' said Dutch defender John Heitinga, whose team had 28 scoring attempts compared to eight for Denmark.
The Dutch, for all their creative prowess and technical skills, were on target only eight times. By contrast, the Danes had a perfect record with every attempt being on goal.
The result left Heitinga unable to decide ''whether it is luck for them or bad luck for us - or inability.''
Playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who had a standout game with his probing passes to Van Persie and Huntelaar, also highlighted his team's lack of return from so much possession.
''Dominating doesn't count,'' he said. ''This is the proof. We are left empty handed.''
The Netherlands' sense of frustration was heightened by claims for a penalty in the dying minutes, when Denmark's Lars Jacobsen appeared to touch the ball with his upper arm in the box during a duel with Huntelaar.
''It is such a clear penalty, and then you likely get a draw,'' Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said.
The coach also blamed the hot, humid conditions with a game temperature of 27C. ''In conditions like that, it is much better to be the defending team and deny space,'' he said. ''It costs a lot less effort.''
But by the 24th minute, when Krohn-Dehli put Denmark ahead, the Dutch could already have scored from any of half a dozen chances. By then, the Netherlands could easily have been the team on the defensive, ready to pounce on the counter.
''We ran after the facts for almost the entire match,'' Sneijder said.
If finding the net against Denmark proved too tough an assignment, it's unlikely to get any easier when the Netherlands faces archrival Germany on Wednesday.
This time around, the Dutch cannot afford to lose. Perhaps, though, they can take some solace from history.
In 1988, they lost their opening game at the European Championship to the Soviet Union by a similar score. Then, Marco van Basten came into his own and started scoring until the Netherlands won its one and only major trophy.