Euro 2012 Preview: Denmark
No side has lost more finals games in the history of the European Championship than Denmark, but then no side -- not even Greece -- has ever won the tournament in more unlikely circumstances. Denmark hadn't even qualified for the Euros in 1992, but as war tore through Yugoslavia, it was called up a fortnight before the tournament as a replacement and went on to beat Germany in the final. A repeat is highly unlikely this time round, particularly given a dreadfully tough first-round group, but this is a young and talented Danish side that might just unsettle a few more fancied names. Morten Olsen has already been in charge for 12 years and has just signed a two-year extension, which says much for his belief in the potential of his side. In fact, he believes it has a greater chance to make an impression at the World Cup in 2014 than in Poland-Ukraine. It shouldn't go unnoticed that while Portugal is more fancied, Denmark beat the Portuguese 2-1 in its final qualifier to finish three points clear at the top of the group, sending Portugal into a playoff.
Just 20, the playmaker was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year and Danish Player of the Year in 2011 as he helped Ajax to its first title in seven years. They've retained it this season. Eriksen made his international debut against Austria in March 2010, making him Denmark's fourth-youngest international ever, and the youngest since Michael Laudrup. He also was the youngest player at the 2010 World Cup. An intelligent, technically-gifted attacking midfielder, he will look to send through balls to Nicklas Bendtner, but his main role is to spread the ball to Denmark's two wingers, Dennis Rommedahl and Michael Krohn-Dehli..
Awkward and inconsistent he may be at the club level, Bendtner remains hugely popular among Denmark fans. He made his debut for the national team at age 18, and in the six years since has won 47 caps and scored 18 goals. What frustrates fans of Arsenal (and Sunderland, where he spent last season on loan) is that Bendtner apparently has everything necessary to be an exceptional player: he is tall and powerful, capable of acting as a target man, yet also has the technical gifts to play deeper or on the flank. The problem is attitude, but Olsen seems able to keep him on the right side of the line that separates self-confidence form arrogance.
If it weren't for injuries, Agger might already be hailed as one of the greatest central defenders in Premier League history. He is a fine reader of the game, comfortable on the ball and blessed with a ferocious shot. Still, he has only managed to play half of Liverpool's league games in half the six full seasons he has spent at Anfield. He owns a pub with his uncle in Denmark and has a vast array of tattoos, including one featuring Vikings and a graveyard that covers his back with the legend, "
Thomas Sorensen was an automatic first choice but a back injury suffered against Brazil has sidelined him out of the squad. He's been replaced by Kasper Schmeichel, the 25-year-old son of Peter, who won the title in 1992. Presumably, he is seen as the third choice, so will it be Anders Lindegaard of Manchester United or Stephan Andersen of Evian who steps up? Lindegaard played in three qualifiers to Andersen's none and plays at a higher level, but Andersen has had the more regular football.
The theory is good: a 4-3-3 with the ball and 4-5-1 without, with Bendtner offering the outlet ball. Against Brazil in a freindly, though, the midfield was overrun as Denmark lost 3-1. That is always likely to be the danger with such attacking players as Dennis Rommedahl, Christian Eriksen and Michael Krone-Dehli. Michael Silberbauer or Thams Kalneburg perhaps offer more defensive options but, at least at first, Olsen seems likely to stick with the style that got his side through qualifying.
Agger is a certainty at center-back, but there are doubts as to who should partner with him. Simon Kjaer almost joined Real Madrid when he left Midtjyllland in 2008 before joining Palermo. He spent last season on loan at Roma but he has struggled for form in Serie A. He is likely to retain his place, but there is pressure from Andrea Bjelland, who has just agreed a move from Nordsjaelland to the Dutch club Twente.
There is -- theoretically, at least -- a great balance to this Danish side, as befits a team that's had a settled system for a couple of years. Nominally, it's a 4-3-3, but that only tells part of the story. Rommedahl, at 33, is not quite as quick but still plays as an orthodox winger on the right, staying wide and looking to deliver crosses for Bendtner, the lone central striker. On the left, Krohn-Dehli, while posing a goal threat, also shuttles back to offer a link with the midfield. In that sense, the system is not unlike a Brazilian-style 4-2-2-2, with Eriksen the other attacking midfielder operating more centrally and a little deeper than Krohn-Dehli while looking to feed the wide men. Both fullbacks, Lars Jacobsen or Daniel Wass and Simon Poulsen, are attackers, offering support to the wingers, with a pair of holding midfielders, probably William Kvist and Niki Zimling, offering a necessary counterweight. They will shuffle across to cover the advances of the fullbacks where necessary.
Denmark is a fluent, attractive side, and if it's allowed to dominate possession, has the players to take advantage. But even after the concerns raised by the Brazil defeat, there is also a toughness to this side, and the ability of Bendtner to hold the ball up means it can go long if it needs to.