If the tournament was to be decided by experience, Denmark would win hands down. Coach Morten Olsen is preparing to lead the Danes into a major tournament for the fourth time. Few coaches in world football can compete with that record and that is a testament to the popularity of the Dane in his home land as well as the expectations placed on him that he is still seen as the man to lead the Vikings into the tournament.
They have been drawn in the proverbial group of death along with Germany, Holland and Portugal. If he guides the team out of that quartet then he deserves a life full of Carlsberg and Danish bacon. Experience suggests that the Danes are most dangerous when they are written off. Need we remind anyone of the shock they pulled off in 1992 by winning the tournament, although the “legend” that the players had to be recalled from their beach holidays when they were asked to replace Yugoslavia at the last minute is just that. In fact the squad was together for a friendly against the CIS when UEFA announced that they would be joining the tournament in Sweden. As anyone who has lived among the Danes will know, everyone heads on holiday in July not May.
Drawn in qualification in a group many expected would be won with ease by Portugal, the Danes started with uncertainty. A last minute winner at home to Iceland was followed by a defeat in Porto. A win and a draw from the next two games saw them in second place at the half way stage with 7 points. Friendly defeats to both England and Scotland hardly gave the nation faith in Olsen but then the Danes won their last four games, including the group decider in October at home to Portugal thanks to goals from Michael Krohn-Delhi and Niklas Bendtner.
Wins in friendlies prior to Christmas against Sweden and Finland have seen them claim the crown as Nordic champions, although there will be some concern at how easily they were beaten in the most recent game at home to Russia.
They can look forward to contrasting styles of opponent in their final two warm up games as first up they will take on Brazil in Hamburg and then Australia will line up at Parken against the Danes.
The core of Olsen’s squad certainly has experience. In his last squad for the game versus Russia in February, he included two centurions in terms of caps won, plus the likes of ex-West Ham full back Lars Jacobsen, AS Roma’s Simon Kjær and Daniel Agger at the back, Ninety cap Christian Poulsen in midfield and the troublesome Bendtner up front. And then of course there is Dennis Rommedahl
How they got there?
By simply beating Portugal when the chips were stacked against them in the last group match. In a group that looked from the outset it would be won by Ronaldo’s boys, Denmark targeted the games against Norway as the must win ones. A less than impressive first half of the campaign saw them win against Iceland and Cyprus but drop points against their closest rivals. However, on the back nine they beat all four nations, confirming their spot on the plane in the winner takes it all game against Portugal at Parken in October. Ronaldo’s late goal meant that it was a backs against the wall during injury time knowing that another goal would have sent Portugal through on goal difference and the Danes into the play offs.
Joint top scorers during the campaign were the enigmatic Arsenal (and Sunderland loanee) Nicklas Bendtner and the irrepressible Dennis Rommedahl, once of Charlton Athletic with three goals apiece.
Amazingly, despite the dominance of FC Copenhagen on the domestic front, it is more than possible that only one of their players may make the squad.
Why they’ll win
Because of the spirit of 1992. Twenty years ago they were a close-knit squad with few major stars after the self imposed exile of Michael Laudrup, and a disagreement on “out of hours” activities with Jan Molby but they beat all of the odds, and the bookies, to win the tournament. The success of the team saw the new crop of Danish players spread far and wide across Europe such as Peter Schmeichel, John Jensen and Lars Elstrup. Today, the Danish squad is more worldly wise, settled and have experience at the highest level but will again be seen as make weights in a group of footballing giants.
Why they won’t win
Because it’s not 1992. Their win in Sweden in Euro92 is up there with Greece’s in 2004. In fact with the tournament at the time just being eight teams it could be argued that it was all the more impressive. But the world has moved on and whilst the core of the Danish side ply their trade throughout Europe they do not have the flair and imagination to beat the likes of Holland and Germany who they will face in the Group Stages. The back line is prone to mistakes, something that saw them eliminated at the first stage in South Africa two years ago after defeats to Holland and Japan, and they are not a free scoring team or even one with a recognised goal scorer at club level.
Expectations back at home are not high either, with the majority of the public eagerly waiting for the start of the Olympic Handball tournament. This, of course, can work in their favour when results do not go their way and the team will still return home to polite Danish applause and a “there is always Brazil 2014”.
We’ve seen before
It is more than likely that we will recognise the names of the men who will be between the posts this summer. Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard and Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel have all had time in goal under Olsen recently but the most familiar name missing will be Stoke City’s Thomas Sørensen who earnt his 100th cap in the friendly versus Russia in February. His century of caps has seen the Potteries adopted son play in three major tournaments - but not this time.
The Danes will be captained by Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger, who fitness permitting, will line up with AS Roma’s Simon Kjaer, Simon Poulson and ex-West Ham full back Lars Jacobsen.
Despite being widely touted as the next “Laudrup” as all attacking midfielders are in Denmark, Christian Eriksen comes into this tournament as one of the most promising young prospects in the European game today. He will undoubtedly at 20 years old be one of the youngest players in the tournament, although has now got over 20 caps on his young head including game time in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Despite interest from all of Europe’s biggest clubs, Eriksen has remained at Ajax who he joined in 2008 for an estimated €1 million despite never having actually played in the first team at OB, his first professional club.
Eriksen is a player who appears to be well advised, publicly saying that his first step in the game should not be “too big” when questioned why he chose to remain at Ajax after having trials at some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
He was announced as Denmark’s Footballer of the Year last season and has now broken into Olsen’s starting XI after scoring in the game against Iceland in the qualifying tournament, making him the youngest player to do so since, er, Michael Laudrup.
If Eriksen shines in the tough group, Ajax will have a job on their hands trying to keep such a young talent when the transfer window opens.
My starting XI:-
Jacobsen Aggar Kjaer S Poulson
J Poulsen Kvist Schöne Eriksen
The current Denmark kit is available from Kitbag.
Stuart is responsible for The Ball Is Round website, one of the finest football sites on the internet.