KHARKIV, UKRAINE - When the final whistle tooted at Kharkiv’s antiquated Metalist Stadium on a sweaty Saturday evening in the Ukraine, Dutch winger Arjen Robben plopped down to the emerald green turf in disgust.
He had reason to feel that way.
As he lay splattered on the grass in front of the Denmark goal, Robben held his head between his hands, gutted at the notion of a game and, perhaps, a tournament, that may have slipped through the skilled fingers of “De Oranje.”
Call it a shocker.
Call it a stunner.
Call it what you want.
Whatever the case, the Dutch and their loyal, orange-clad fans are calling it a nightmare.
Victims of the first huge upset at Euro 2012, the Dutch now find themselves in a very precarious position just one game into a tournament where they were once considered a favourite.
After butchering countless scoring opportunities all night long, the Netherlands were flabbergasted at dropping a 1-0 decision to underdog Denmark.
Three hours later, they could only helplessly watch as arch-rival Germany squeaked out a 1-0 win over a feisty Portugal side in Lviv thanks to a late game winner off the noggin of striker Mario Gomez.
Officially, these four teams are listed as the participants of Group B in the tournament.
Unofficially, this has been known as the Group of Death going all the way back to December when the team balls were drawn out of bowls at the official Euro 2012 draw in Kiev.
And for the Dutch, their so-called “death” in this competition might be closer than anyone could have imagined.
After Saturday’s results, the Germans and Danes sit atop the group with three points each while the Dutch and Portuguese have zilch.
Looking ahead, here’s an easy way to do the math.
If the Netherlands lose to their despised neighbours from Germany on Wednesday and the Danes manage to scratch out just one point in their final two matches, the Dutch are toast.
OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. There still is a long way to go. And any team that oozes with talent like Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Mark Van Bommel is perfectly capable of running the table the rest of the way en route to hoisting the European Championship trophy in Kiev on July 1.
But in order to do that, the Dutch need to get at least one point -- ideally three -- on Wednesday against Die Mannschaft at Metalist Stadium.
Any time these two teams clash, it is a grudge match. The fact that the Germans know they can pretty much jam the dagger into the hearts of Holland only helps to escalate the heated emotions in what is already a bitter rivalry.
Not that this matters, but the Germans did pound the Dutch 3-0 late last year in a so-called friendly.
(By the way, is there such a thing as a “friendly” when these two sides get together?)
“The Dutch have a lot of pressure vs. Germany,” acknowledged winning Danish manager Morten Olsen, whose team got all the offence it would need thanks to a Michael Krohn-Dehli goal in the 24th minute.
As soon as the game ended, the international press had a field day documenting how the Danes barely hung on after scoring against the flow of play.
At the same time, the Dutch have no one to blame but themselves. Rarely do you see any team, let alone such a skilled one such as this, repeatedly butcher incredible scoring opportunities from such tight quarters.
Robben came the closest to equalizing when he ripped a shot off the woodwork in the second half. Otherwise, it was a day where the Dutch missed the net to the right, to the left, over the top -- you name it.
“There were maybe four, five, six players who had chances,” Dutch coach Bert Van Maarwijk said.
None could convert.
As a result, mighty Holland now finds itself practically in a do-or-die situation.
Robben would be the first one to tell you that.
If he’s picked himself up off the Metalist Stadium turf by now, that is.