World Soccer: Denmark won the European title 20 years ago. Can you do it again?

Morten Olsen: What happened in ’92 was very special. Denmark didn’t even qualify for that tournament, if you remember. Back then there were only eight teams in the tournament and now there are 16. That means one more match, one tough extra hurdle to become champions. But everything is possible in football. There is also the opposition. Portugal without Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, is not the same as Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo. It is about playing well for three weeks only, and everything is possible.

What benefits are there to being an international coach for 12 years?

I think it helps that you see the players develop from youngsters when they first arrive, right through to being experienced and mature footballers.

You know about them and who they are when they have been with you for four, five or six years. I have enjoyed that and it’s why I have stayed so long in the job. Yes, I have missed club football, and in those 12 years there have been plenty of opportunities to join clubs, but I also love working with my national team.

What persuaded you to carry on for two more years after Euro 2012?

The big reason is that the players wanted me to stay – and that is very satisfying – both the younger players and the more experienced ones. I would like to carry on and try to reach the World Cup in Brazil. That is an ambition for a football person.

How important is the talent of Christian Eriksen to the team?

He is a wonderful young talent, everyone can see that, but he is still only a young player and he is just one man in the side. He cannot carry the team by himself and we have told him that he shouldn’t try to do that. He has to keep developing as he is, and I think that one more year at Ajax would be good for him. I hope that happens. If he keeps improving he will become a great talent and ready to show that in Brazil in 2014.

Did you consider selecting Viktor Fischer, the 17-year-old winning rave reviews in the Ajax academy?

No. That’s the straight answer. He is another very promising talent, but he has played only in youth football so far, never in the Ajax senior side. You cannot take a player to a major international tournament if he is not in his club’s first team. It’s not possible. But everyone at Ajax knows next season he will start to play in the seniors, and then we will see.

Do you think that international football become less popular and less important with the rise of the Champions League?

No, I don’t believe that. It is true that some friendly internationals do not have the same significance that they did 15 years ago because there is so much football played now, and so much of it on television, but the European Championship and World Cup are still at the peak.

The whole country watches these tournaments and they have a completely different feel to the Champions League.
I was on the UEFA technical committee at Euro 2008 and saw for myself the colour and songs the fans brought to the stadia. It was fantastic, and I know in Denmark the tournaments are very special.

Which players will be the stars of this tournament?

In our group we have Robin Van Persie, the top scorer in the English Premier League, Mario Gomez, top scorer in the Bundesliga, and Cristiano Ronaldo, top scorer along with Lionel Messi in the Spanish league. You don’t have to look any further than those three for the people who will shine in this tournament. What we won’t see are any surprises, any new stars from nowhere. Football has changed and that time is over. Everybody knows about everybody in
the era of the Champions League and so much TV coverage.

Who in your opinion are the likely winners this summer?

I still think Spain are the favourites. They play such good football and their players are not complacent. Germany are also potential champions. They always have a very strong mentality and now they are playing very good football. Maybe they feel it is time to win something.

Interview by Jim Holden