Willem van Hanegem, Louis van Gaal, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola… they all said at some stage in their career: “I don’t care who we play, what their tactics are or what they do… We play our own game. And we won’t change it for the sake of our opponents…”
Tough talk. But let’s have a look anyway, ok?
Denmark is our first opponent this tournament. They are the filler in this Group of Death. All eyes will be on Germany, Holland and Portugal and Denmark will be seen as the ugly duckling, used to prop up the goal difference. But is that the right attitude?
Denmark was our first opponent at the World Cup in S Africa as well. They are seen as a weaker nation but we did need an own goal from them to start our winning campaign. Underestimating an opponent is always stupid and as Morten Olson’s men can look back at historical success at the Euros level, it is probably smart for Holland to take them seriously.
Denmark got their international breakthrough at the 1984 Euros in France, when they turned a 0-2 trail into a 3-2 win over Belgium. They lost the semi finals against Spain, but since then Denmark has been a staple at Euros.
They actually won it in 1992, in Sweden, as the so-called “beach team” that came to the tournament only because Yugoslavia was banned as a result of the Balkan crisis. Richard Moller-Nielsen’s team got a second bite of the cherry and totally relaxed and without pressure played themselves to glory. Partly by beating Holland in the semis on penalties. And this was even without their best ever player, Michael Laudrup.
Denmark was never able to even come close to this feat, but they did force Brazil to a hefty quarter finals game in the 1998 World Cup and they didn’t do too shabby at the 2004 Euros either.
Denmark has garnered fans all over the world by their joyous football: attacking, skillfull and somewhat undisciplined. Their former heroes include forwards like the Laudrups, Preben Larssen, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Allan Simonsen and more controlled players like Morton Olson and goalie Peter Schmeichel.
In today’s Denmark, youthful talents like Christian Eriksen, Michael Krohn Dehli and Nicklas Bendtner take the limelight, although the playing style under Morton Olson is more of a counter-attacking unit.
Coach Morton Olsen was the Danish Beckenbauer, a midfielder transformed to libero. He was the first Danish player to reach 100 caps the former Anderlecht star would later coach Ajax and Brondby IFK. Olsen still claims that the beauty of the game is more important to him than results, in real Ajax style, but the way his team plays doesn’t always exude that mantra.
Stoke City goalie Thomas Sorensen is Olsen’s skipper. The seasoned goalie was supposed to be Schmeichel’s successor but struggles to make minutes in Stoke’s first team. Sorensen recently injured his back and might be replaced by Man United’s Lindegaard in the Holland game.
Andreas Bjelland is Denmark’s rock in the back. Strong and focused. Definitely not a big name player ( yet). He’s only 22 years old and has only played 4 international games for Denmark but he’s seen as the mainstay in Denmark’s defense. The young Dane will join FC Twente this summer. He plays center back for Denmark but is capable of playing full back and holding midfielder too.
Christian Eriksen can play his football where he wants. All European topclubs are interested in signing the playmaker, as they were back in 2008 when he was only 16 years old. It was Ajax that snatched him up and Eriksen said only recently he will stay at least one more season in Amsterdam. He enjoys working with Bergkamp and De Boer and loves the open Dutch competition. But the biggest Danish talent since Laudrup will most definitely end up wearing the Barca club colours one day…
Nicklas Bendtner is a lad with a big ego. And big strikers tend to have big egos ( ask Drogba, Ibrahimovic, Gullit and John Guidetti if you are not sure). The 23 year old Arsenal striker ( on loan at Sunderland) played an important role for Denmark in the qualifications, scoring key goals in important games.
Other interesting players: Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Nichoai Boilesen ( Ajax), Simon Poulsen ( AZ Alkmaar), Lasse Schone ( now NEC, Ajax next season), Mads Junker ( Roda JC, maybe Feyenoord?) and Dennis Rommedahl ( ex PSV, ex Ajax)
What to expect?
Denmark plays an interesting role in the group. We expect them to lose against Holland of course, but depending on the result of Germany – Portugal, anything is possible. If that game ends in a tie, and Oranje is capable of beating both Germany and Portugal, Denmark will have shot at second place. They will have to beat Portugal ( which they have done before in the qualifications) and need a result ( a tie? ) against Germany to be the dog that gets away with the bone.
Despite Olsen’s words and his reputation of playing attractive football, Denmark will calculate their way through the group and might be a surprise knock out rival.