Group E: Denmark

Spirited and strong down the middle, Denmark won't be easy to topple – unless teams get down the flanks, says Dan Brennan
 


This is arguably the strongest Danish team since the side that gatecrashed Euro 92 and won it.

The current crop are unlikely to emulate that feat this summer, but having qualified from a tough group ahead of Portugal, and having ended Sweden’s hopes, they will travel to South Africa fearing nobody and confident of progressing to the knockout stage.

Unlike previous vintage Danish sides, there are no stars, but there is plenty of quality, and more importantly, according to striker Soren Larsen, their top scorer during the qualifiers, there is a robust work ethic.

“Our main strength is our team spirit. We keep things tight and try to get forward with plenty of passing down the flanks. It’s very similar to the Netherlands, really, but not quite at the same level. We fight for one another, so if someone makes a mistake, we run the extra 100 metres to help them out.”

Given that the Netherlands are among the teams in their group, top spot is probably beyond them, but Denmark's organisational nous should be enough to see off Japan and Cameroon.

Strengths The spine. Goalkeeper Tomas Sorensen has proved an able successor to the mighty Peter Schmeichel, and with the extremely talented centre-back pairing of Kjaer and Agger ahead of him, Denmark boast a very solid central-defensive unit – the key to seven clean sheets in 10 qualifiers.

The Danish defence is further bolstered by holding midfielder Christian Poulsen. While his primary role is to sit deep and protect the back four, the Juve player is also afforded more licence to indulge his attacking instincts than he ever gets in Italy.

At the spearhead of their attack, Nicklas Bendtner continues to improve and is far more consistent for country than for club. Meanwhile, in 18-year-old playmaker Christian Eriksen they have a real star in the making, one who could finally provide the Danes with an heir to Michael Laudrup.

The Ajax teenager could well be joining Bendtner at Arsenal next season, after a glowing reference from Dennis Bergkamp; he's unlikely to figure in the starting XI in South Africa, but could prove an effective wild card from the bench.

Weaknesses The flanks. The full-back positions are the weak links at the back, while on the wings, they rely far too much on ageing pair Jesper Gronkjaer and Dennis Rommedahl, both of whom have slowed down since their days in English football. In addition, injury may deprive them of Soren Larsen, their top scorer in qualifying with 10 goals, which may place too much of a burden on Bendtner’s shoulders.

Interesting fact Denmark scored the first goal at the 1908 Olympics in London, which was widely regarded as the prototype tournament for the World Cup.

The Coach: Morten OlsenAfforded the sort of time most managers can only dream of, Olsen has overseen the gradual rebirth of the Danish team, after being put in charge a decade ago following their failure to make Euro 2000.

A firm advocate of attacking football, his dogmatic adherence to 4-3-3, or variations thereof, has seen him accused of tactical inflexibility, particularly given that ‘The Olsen Gang’ (named after a popular Danish cop show) shows a lack of Dutch-style flair in wide positions.

Key Player: Nicklas Bendtner The Arsenal man’s goals fuelled Denmark’s qualification campaign. Already a legend in his own mind, he claims he’s destined to be the world’s best striker. Now would be a good time to prove it.

Probable Team (4-1-3-1-1): Sorensen; Jacobsen, Agger, Kjær, Mtiliga; Poulsen; Rommedahl, Jensen, Grønkjær; Tomasson; Bendtner

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FixturesHolland, June 14, 12.30pm, JohannesburgCameroon, June 19, 7.30pm, Tshwane
/PretoriaJapan, June 24, 7.30pm, RustenburgQualified Top of UEFA Group 1Hungary (A) 0-0Portugal (A) 3-2Malta (H) 3-0Malta (A) 3-0Albania (H) 3-0Sweden (A) 1-0Portugal (H) 1-1Albania (A) 1-1Sweden (H) 1-0Hungary (H) 0-1

World Cup record1986 2nd Round1998 Quarter-final2002 2nd Round

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