Can Denmark defy the odds once again, like they did exactly 20 years ago and win the European Championships? Ciaran Bonass takes a look at the current crop of Danes.
Denmark defied all the low expectations presumed of an average squad to put in some sterling performances and top their qualifying group ahead of Portugal but their reward was a pretty dubious one; a group B draw which placed the Danes alongside the losing finalists of World Cup 2010 – Holland – and two of the last four European Championship finalists – Germany and Portugal; you wouldn’t blame them if they wondered why they bothered.
“Of course, on paper, it probably wasn’t our preferred draw, but it’s still incredibly exciting,” said Denmark and Stoke City’s sometimes number one Thomas Sorenson in what was possibly the understatement of the pre-tournament. Well, albeit it on paper or in reality the cruel twist of fate dealt to them early last December has the Danes, along with Ireland, priced as the rank outsiders to win Euro 2012 at 80/1. It was always unlikely to see a team containing so few established stars of the European game in their ranks as a potential dark horse, but Derren Brown would have a bit of trouble convincing even the most myopic of Danish supporters of their team’s capacity to emulate the heroics of the class of 1992 against such opposition.
It would be unjust though to rule out Morten Olsson’s side altogether, especially when they face a side in Portugal whom they have bettered in qualifying en route to the 2010 World Cup and in reaching Poland and Ukraine but are now confusingly viewed as vastly inferior to now the finals have been reached. Denmark’s best assets are their competitiveness, consistency and unity, which is explained somewhat by the fact Olsson has been in the hot-seat for over 12 years and is preparing to lead his unheralded side out in the finals of a major tournament for a fourth time. His charges also showed great character and conviction in winning their final qualifier against Portugal 2-1 to complete a perfect home record in Copenhagen when anything but victory would have condemned them to the playoffs in place of their opponents.
Their defence arguably contains as much quality as anywhere in their lineup with talented personnel like Daniel Agger of Liverpool and Roma’s Simon Kjaer both excellent passers of the ball and extremely comfortable in possession but well-marshaled against the lapses in concentration which can undermine their qualities by captain Lars Jacobsen – who was an ever-present in qualifying and remains key to Danish hopes.
Also pivotal to their prospects is Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen, still only 20-years-old and another who took part in every qualifier, the attacking midfielder is seen as the country’s best prospect since the great Michael Laudrup, and Holland’s most successful club will do well to keep hold of their latest wonderkid should Eriksen make a big impact on the game against the Dutch in the group B opener on June 9 in Kharkiv.
A positive result in that tie would certainly give Denmark a fighting chance, but with Nicklas Bendtner – the man who somehow gave pink boots a bad name – their best bet to get goals in a group where the other contenders offer them at every outlet, it looks highly unlikely the Danes will be bringing back the bacon.