Once dubbed the country’s worst national side for 30 years, Danish hopes are riding high once again
The smiling face of Morten Olsen looks out from billboards all over Denmark. However, rather than selling the World Cup, the adverts are for hearing aids and feature the national coach because of his deafness.
It is typical of the laid-back nature of the Danes. They live in a small country, and do not suffer from the great expectations and inflated hype that surrounds football in Italy, Germany, Brazil and England.
They approach participation in any major championship with hope and pleasure merely at being there, and it serves them well, most notably at the 1992 European Championship, where Denmark emerged as the unlikely victors of a tournament for which they had not even qualified and only gained late entry when Yugoslavia were absent for political reasons.
This is Denmark’s fourth World Cup finals and each time they have progressed from the group stage, even reaching the quarter-finals in 1998, when they lost a memorable match 3-2 against Brazil.
Most Danish football supporters believe a similar campaign is likely this summer thanks to a reasonably friendly group with Holland, Cameroon and Japan – and in the wake of a qualification campaign in which they outsmarted Portugal and Sweden.
Two years ago there was such general disdain for a Denmark team without stars that some pundits were moved to announce that they were the country’s worst national side for 30 years. But Olsen brushed aside the vitriol and built a capable unit based on the high-class defensive partnership of Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer.
The supporters and media were won over, and now there is optimism that the team will reach at least the knockout stage and maybe even the quarter-finals with a little luck. Certainly, the strongest line-up that Denmark can field ought to command respect and have a chance of beating the most likely second-round opponent, Italy.
It will help, too, that Olsen has significant experience of World Cup football both as a player in 1986 and coach in 2002. His team will be well organised and hard to beat, though lacking the creative flair of Danish teams from previous generations. There is no dynamite nor a Michael Laudrup, but every fan hopes that Ajax teenager Christian Eriksen is given the chance to shine.
Surely the biggest problem, however, will be scoring goals, with Jon Dahl Tomasson having dried up, and Nicklas Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl frustratingly inconsistent.
The view from Denmark
“I think Denmark will qualify for the second round, and they should do so in the group they have. After that it will be a lottery, but we have some very talented young players and any opponent who underestimates Denmark will do so at their peril.”
Preben Elkjaer, former Denmark striker
“Much depends on whether the older players such as Jon Dahl Tomasson, Jesper Gronkjaer and Martin Jorgensen can have a good tournament. With their experience, to help the youthful promise of Nicklas Bendtner and Simon Kjaer, Denmark could do very well.”
Steen Ankerdal, Danish TV journalist