2010 World Cup profile: Denmark
Tough holding midfielder Christian Poulsen's physical game is emblematic of Denmark's style of play, though often not as extreme.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Denmark. Click here for the full archive.
Despite missing the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Danes' strength lies in their core of World Cup veterans. They're just a tad longer in the tooth than the veterans of other sides heading to South Africa.
Captain Jon Dahl Tomasson, attacking midfielder Martin Jørgensen and winger Dennis Rommedahl are in their twilight, but the trio remains imminent threats going forward. Prolific striker Tomasson failed to notch a goal in qualifying, but his leadership and craftiness were invaluable. Jørgensen, who recently returned to his boyhood club, AGF Aarhus, after 12 years in Serie A, is a tireless playmaker reminiscent of Danish legend Michael Laudrup. Ajax's Rommedahl started all 10 qualifiers and has the versatility to play a number of attacking positions.
The attack is bolstered by the emergence of powerful young Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, whose size and fearlessness blend nicely with Tomasson's guile. But the key to the attack may be super-sub Søren Larsen, who led Denmark with five goals during qualifying, taking his international tally to 11 in just 17 games. If Denmark is to advance from tricky Group E, the Duisburg ace will have to live up to his nickname: Die Waffe, or "the Weapon."
However, for all this talk about the attack, longtime manager Morten Olsen's organized and, at times, predictable side struggled to score against quality sides. But the defense, which conceded only five goals during qualifying, has the grit and wherewithal to clamp down. It begins with Christian Poulsen, the tough-minded Juventus holding midfielder who receives as much bad ink as good. The 29-year-old has, at various times, provoked Francesco Totti to spit on him, stamped on Jermaine Jenas' head and allegedly kicked Kaká. Most damning was a punch he threw at Sweden's Markus Rosenborg in '08, which sparked a fan attack on the referee and the abandonment of the match. Poulsen received a three-match ban.
The back line is led by Liverpool's Daniel Agger and Blackburn Rovers' Lars Jacobsen, while Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen is still at the height of his powers. Don't be surprised if the 6-foot-5 stopper's uncanny ability to stop penalties proves pivotal for the Danes.
What to watch for
No one would confuse the Denmark of 2010 with the "Danish Dynamite" sides of the 1980s. But what "Olsen's Gang" lacks in artistry, it makes up for in resolve. This was exemplified during the key matches during qualifying, including a magical 3-2 win away to Portugal, when Denmark scored three goals after the 80th minute, including an 88th-minute equalizer and a 92nd-minute winner. It also earned gutsy 1-0 wins against bitter rival Sweden. The away fixture, in particular, stands out as the quintessential Danish result -- an early goal followed by a long, staunch resistance.
The Danes' ability to keep their shape against three dynamic opponents will make or break them in South Africa. If they can hold their opponents in the midfield and look to spring a fast counterattack, they have a very good chance of moving on to the knockout stage.
Key match in group stage
June 19 vs. Cameroon. Assuming the Danes fall to overwhelming group favorite the Netherlands, this Friday-night matchup at Loftus Versfeld Stadium could determine Denmark's fate. A loss, and it's out; a draw, with a final group game against Japan, and Olsen's side should feel confident about its chances. The Danes' impressive determination, however, will be tested mightily by Samuel Eto'o and the Indomitable Lions' potent cocktail of power and pace with a splash of grace.
Celebrity scouting report: Rancid's Lars Frederiksen*
Denmark is such a small country, my mom, who was from there, instilled that pride in me. Whether it was the Olympics or the World Cup, if Denmark was playing -- or skiing -- I was tuned to the TV if we got the games. I have fond memories of those "Danish Dynamite" teams from the '80s, and then that Euro '92 team. We've been waiting a long time to get back. ... The shadow of the Laudrup brothers looms pretty big on this team, and it's nice that another link to the old days, Olsen, is coaching them. They all had a way of bringing the rest of the team up to their level. This current team doesn't have that same superstar quality. Other than Bendtner, Poulsen, Rommedahl and Agger, it's a pretty no-name team of guys who mostly play in the Danish Superliga. But in a way, that's cool. Because Denmark is so small, that makes it a little more special when you're taken from your own pool. Plus, these guys all face each other regularly, and their teamwork is good.
* The guitarist for the Northern California-based punk-rock band is a first-generation Danish-American. As told to Jonah Freedman.