Euro 2012 preview: Denmark
Ever hear the one about the team who were 'on the beach' just days before the start of the tournament they were about to win? Oh, you have? Every four years since 1992? Here's Ben Lyttleton on Denmark's chances 20 years on.
The Danes warm up for Euro 2012 (deckchairs and beachballs not pictured)
Denmark are used to being written off before a European Championship even starts. It was 20 years ago that they failed even to qualify but, as late replacements for Yugoslavia, beat Holland and Germany to win Euro 92. They will face those two sides again after being drawn in Group B, but Danish coach Morten Olsen has no intention of letting his side be the whipping boys of the first round.
Ã¢ÂÂWe are without doubt in the toughest group, but I donÃ¢ÂÂt think Holland, Germany or Portugal were happy with the draw either,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs tough for everyone, but especially for us. We canÃ¢ÂÂt do anything but surprise everyone, and for that we need everyone in top mental and physical shape. We see this as a challenge and we are up for it.Ã¢ÂÂ
Olsen has changed his system and overhauled the ageing midfield that struggled at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago: out are Martin Jorgensen, Jesper Gronkjaer and Thomas Kahlenberg - though the latter will travel to Ukraine and Poland as back-up. Instead, Stuttgart right-back William Kvist plays in holding midfield alongside Club Brugge hard-man Niki Zimling.
Ahead of them is a three-man attacking trident, with Dennis Rommedahl providing the pace despite his ageing legs (he is now 33), highly-rated Ajax youngster Christian Eriksen as the central playmaker, and late bloomer Michael Krohn-Dehli playing for a move away from Brondby on the left flank. This is EriksenÃ¢ÂÂs first big chance at this level Ã¢ÂÂ he made a brief substitute appearance at the World Cup as an 18-year-old and there is enormous pressure on him to live up to his hype (not helped by Johan Cruyff comparing him to Michael Laudrup).
Upfront is Nicklas Bendtner, much more dangerous for country than club, and rated highly by his compatriots given the paucity of options behind him: Soren Larsen has not scored for three years, while Mads Junker (Roda), Morten Skoubo (OB) and Nicklas Pedersen (Groningen) have all had chances but scored a combined two goals in 20 games. Olsen has said he expects the three players behind Bendtner to start weighing in with more goals to take some pressure off SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs on-loan forward.
At the back, former Charlton man Stephan Andersen or Manchester United's Anders Lindegaard will replace the injured Thomas Sorensen in goal, while Daniel AggerÃ¢ÂÂs fitness is crucial to DenmarkÃ¢ÂÂs stability in central defence. Without him, Simon Kjaer has partnered Andreas Bjelland and the pair have looked shaky. There is still a chance that Bjelland could pip Kjaer to a starting place
Just as they did in the World Cup, Denmark face Holland first. They lost 2-0 in Johannesburg but know they are a stronger side now. As for their second opponents, Portugal, they beat them 2-1 last October in the final qualifier to finish top of Group H. Ã¢ÂÂOur collective turned out to be more important than their individuals,Ã¢ÂÂ said Rommedahl after that game. One thing is for sure: Denmark will need three collectively brilliant performances to graduate from this group.
If anybody has the confidence to lead the line, it's Nicklas Bendtner
Lesson from qualifying
OlsenÃ¢ÂÂs new system and the team spirit that helped Denmark get past Norway and Portugal in a tough qualifying group has boosted their confidence despite the tough draw. Olsen may have failed to solve the problem of his over-reliance on Bendtner for important goals, but the talented young players in the squad point to an exciting future for the Danish team.
Bendtner scored three important goals in qualifying: both strikes in the 2-0 win against Norway and the winner in the decisive qualifier against Portugal. If he is fit and in the mood, Denmark have no one else like him. Their possession play all goes through Eriksen, while the pace of Rommedahl is still a threat down the right flank.
There are concerns that Kjaer, back in contention after a long-term injury at Roma, is a soft touch at this level and needs a bit more of AggerÃ¢ÂÂs toughness. Olsen has admitted that, while his first XI is strong, the lack of squad depth is a worry. Ã¢ÂÂWe canÃ¢ÂÂt afford to get any injuries, otherwise we will not get through,Ã¢ÂÂ he said bluntly.
Did you know...?
Morten Olsen is the longest-serving coach at the finals, having been appointed in August 2000. Only one player has lasted the full 12 years with him: Dennis Rommedahl, who got his first call-up in OlsenÃ¢ÂÂs very first squad. Rommedahl is now 15 caps short of Peter SchmeichelÃ¢ÂÂs Danish appearance record of 129.
Kim Damsgaard Pedersen, journalist, Tipsbladet magazine
Ã¢ÂÂIf nobody from the starting line-up is injured, the Danish side looks strong; but if one of the key players is injured it suddenly looks extremely fragile. If Denmark play the way they did in the qualifying matches when they beat Norway and Portugal, they have a small chance.Ã¢ÂÂ
Could split Dutch and Germans. Then again...
Euro 2012 could prove to be something of a shop window for Eriksen
ItÃ¢ÂÂs only right that the current Danish Player of the Year should be their key man in Poland and Ukraine. The youngest player at World Cup 2010 and the youngest ever scorer in Euro qualifying, Eriksen is young (still 20) but not at all inexperienced. He has dealt with title races and Champions League football for Ajax as well as notching 21 international caps; now the big stage is set for him to dazzle this summer.
There may not be many managers present at this Championship who are as patriotic as Olsen. The Danish manager landed 50 caps captaining Denmark as a player, represented them at three consecutive competitions and then became manager in 2000. The 62-year-old has already pencilled in Danish legend Michael Laudrup as his replacement.
How they play
Lining up in a conservative 4-2-3-1 formation that often becomes a simple 4-5-1, the Danes will set up to stifle the oppositionÃ¢ÂÂs attacking threat rather than maximise their own. Much will depend on the lone striker holding up the ball to bring team-mates into play, as Denmark do possess a number of players who can cause damage, with the exciting Eriksen expected to shine.
1988 First round
1996 First round
2000 First round
June 9, Holland (Kharkiv, 5pm)
June 13, Portugal (Lviv, 5pm)
June 17, Germany (Lviv, 7.45pm)
Denmark are 100/1 to win Euro 2012, and 33/1 to reach the final
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FOURFOURTWO'S EURO 2012 PREVIEWS
Grp A: Poland Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Russia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Greece Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Czech Republic
Grp B: Netherlands Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Germany Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Portugal Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Denmark
Grp C: Spain Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Italy Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Croatia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Republic of Ireland
Grp D: Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ¢ England Ã¢ÂÂ¢ France Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Sweden
...and there's more: try Back of the Net's satirical previews