Every time Denmark qualify for a major international tournament, the first question asked is can the fairy-tale triumph of 1992 be repeated. Well, not this time; not even Hans Christian Andersen would dare write such a script for Danish glory.
But that’s not because the Danes don’t have a fine young team with masses of potential. With the team ninth in the official FIFA world rankings, there might be the first stirrings of their best side in 20 years.
The trouble this time is the group of destruction they face, drawn alongside Germany, Holland and Portugal, who are ranked second, fourth and fifth respectively.
Had Denmark been drawn in Group A rather than Group B they would be favouritesto progress to the quarter-finals rather than the rank outsiders to whom nobody gives a hope.
The mood in Copenhagen since the draw has been one of realism. While their three opponents are all blessed with the superstars of the modern game, the Danes rely on a wonderful team ethic and the emerging talent of Ajax’s talented playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Being cast as the makeweights, however, could be to Denmark’s advantage.
They certainly have the gumption to seize on any complacency within the opposition.They topped a qualifying group that contained Portugal and near-neighbours Norway, and also overcame Portugal in the previous World Cup qualifying campaign.
And while many of Denmark’s players are underestimated with their clubs in various leagues around Europe, they perform with distinction for their country. Striker Nicklas Bendtner is a classic example: often scorned in the English Premier League, but with a record of 17 goals in 46 games for Denmark. Veteran winger Dennis Rommedahl is much the same, with 114 caps and 21 goals to his name, while another unsung stalwart, midfielder William Kvist, is enjoying a fine season at Stuttgart.
The experienced leadership of coach Morten Olsen also explains why this Danish team are serial achievers. He is calm, authoritative and hugely admired by the players, as well as being the longest-serving boss of a major national side at 12 years and counting.
He has a settled squad, with no major selection issues, and it is a proud, spirited and realistic Denmark that will go into another tournament being written off by everyone, but ready to tweak a few famous noses.
Olsen has just signed on for another two years, citing the enthusiasm and potential of the squad. It is his view that Euro 2012 can be a stepping stone to the 2014 World Cup, where the new generation will be more mature, and other prodigious young Danish talent, such as Ajax’s 17-year-old striker Viktor Fischer, will be coming through.
Olsen guided the team through qualifying with commendable intelligence, with home wins against Norway and Portugal following a crucial 1-1 draw away to the Norwegians.
Denmark begin their Euro 2012 campaign against Holland, just as they did at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In that match, at Soccer City, the Danes lost to self-inflicted defensive wounds after matching the Dutch for much of the game.
Their second game this time is against Portugal, over whom they have had the Indian sign in recent years. That knowledge inspires hope among the squad, not least the bullish Eriksen, who is on the shopping list of all the major European clubs.
“We have already beaten the Portuguese before and we hope we can do it again,” he says. “Then, perhaps, we can have a bit of luck against the other teams and we can progress from a really tough group.
“Of course, I am taking a lot of stick from the Dutch players at Ajax. They think they will beat us and qualify for the quarter-finals. But
I think we can defeat them.”
And it is that hint of complacency that will suit the Danes just fine.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
09.06.12 Holland (Kharkiv, Ukr)
13.06.12 Portugal (Lviv, Ukr)
17.06.12 Germany (Lviv, Ukr)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
1 Stephan Andersen (30) 26.11.81 Evian (Fra)
16 Anders Lindegaard (28) 13.04.84 Manchester United (Eng)
22 Kasper Schmeichel (25) 05.11.86 Leicester City (Eng)
4 Daniel Agger (27) 12.12.84 Liverpool (Eng)
12 Andreas Bjelland (23) 11.07.88 Nordsjaelland
6 Lars Jacobsen (32) 20.09.79 Copenhagen
3 Simon Kjaer (23) 26.03.89 Wolfsburg (Ger)
13 Jores Okore (19)11.08.92 Nordsjaelland
5 Simon Poulsen (27) 07.10.84 AZ (Hol)
18 Daniel Wass (23) 31.05.89 Evian (Fra)
8 Christian Eriksen (20) 14.02.92 Ajax (Hol)
20 Thomas Kahlenberg (29) 20.03.83 Wolfsburg (Ger)
7 William Kvist (27) 24.02.85 Stuttgart (Ger)
2 Christian Poulsen (32) 28.02.80 Evian (Fra)
19 Jakob Poulsen (28) 07.07.83 Midtjylland
14 Lasse Schone (26) 27.05.86 NEC (Hol)
15 Michael Silberbauer (30) 07.07.81 Young Boys (Swi)
21 Niki Zimling (27) 19.04.85 Club Brugge (Blg)
11 Nicklas Bendtner (24) 16.01.88 Arsenal (Eng)
9 Michael Krohn-Dehli (29) 06.06.83 Brondby
23 Tobias Mikkelsen (25) 18.09.86 Nordsjaelland
17 Nicklas Pedersen (24) 10.10.87 Groningen (Hol)
10 Dennis Rommedahl (33) 22.07.78 Brondby
Morten Olsen (62) 14.08.49
… goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen was forced to withdraw from the squad with a back injury and was replaced by Kasper Schmeichel …
EURO 2012 QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
07.09.10 Iceland (h) 1-0
08.10.10 Portugal (a) 1-3
12.10.10 Cyprus (h) 2-0
26.03.11 Norway (a) 1-1
04.06.11 Iceland (a) 2-0
06.09.11 Norway (h) 2-0
07.10.11 Cyprus (a) 4-1
11.10.11 Portugal (h) 2-1
P W D L F A Pts
Denmark 8 6 1 1 15 6 19
Portugal 8 5 1 2 21 12 16
Norway 8 5 1 2 10 7 16
Iceland 8 1 1 6 6 14 4
Cyprus 8 0 2 6 7 20 2
By Jim Holden