World Cup 2010 profile – Denmark – Olsen-Banden look to surprise in South Africa

With a population of just over 5.5m, making Denmark only the 23rd most populated country in Europe, they have an impressive stature as a footballing nation. This is based upon a cultural emphasis on sport, which has seen Denmark invest heavily in football. Team Denmark established 25 sports centres and 80 training centres in 30 different venues around the country and has an annual budget of approximately £15m, with about £11.5m granted by the Ministry of Culture and the Danish Sports Federation. This heavy investment has come as the country seeks to catch up with their European neighbours as the Danes were one of the last European leagues to turn professional in 1971.

The Danish SAS Ligaen consists of 12 teams, with reigning champions FC Copenhagen having won it seven times since its inception in 1991. They, along with AaB Aalborg are the only Danish teams to have fared well in Europe in recent years, although neither has been able to progress beyond the group stages of the Champions League. The domestic league is currently ranked 16th in the UEFA rankings meaning that the most talented players often decide to ply their trade in continental Europe – amounting to roughly half of the national team playing abroad. The exodus of the country’s most talented players has seen the domestic league struggle, both in terms of attendances – the league averages at 8 410 this campaign – as well as competitively as they lack the resources to compete with the big names in European football.

Despite having a comparatively late entry into the professional era, they have enjoyed more success than many high-profile European nations. The flair of the Danish Dynamite side delighted neutrals in the 1980s with the likes of Preben Elkjaer and Michael Laudrup leading the way, but Denmark’s crowning glory came in 1992 when they won the European Championship in Sweden under remarkable circumstances. Having initially failed to qualify for the tournament, they were invited to take the place of Yugoslavia, due to the outbreak of civil war in the Baltic country. During the tournament Denmark saw off the reigning European champions Holland in the semi-final via a penalty shoot-out before defeating the World Cup holders Germany in the final with a shock 2-0 victory. In 1995 they won the King Fahd Cup (the precursor to the FIFA Confederations Cup) as they defeated Argentina, capping a golden period for the western Europeans.

Since those halcyon days they have experienced a much more modest period, with quarter-final finishes at both France 98 and Euro 2004 the pinnacle of their achievements, whilst they failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. Currently ranked at 35th in the world, Denmark have modest hopes in South Africa and the first priority will be to qualify from their group, and having been drawn alongside the Netherlands, Cameroon and Japan in Group E, their qualification is far from assured. Realistically, they are vying for second place behind the Dutch, yet they can take solace from their qualification campaign, where they finished top of their group ahead of Portugal who are currently ranked 3rd in the world and local rivals Sweden.

After moderately successful spells in charge of Brondby, Cologne and Ajax, Morten Olsen will lead the Danes in South Africa in his 10th year in charge of the national side. His 100th game in charge was marked by a 1-0 win over neighbours Sweden, securing their qualification for this year’s World Cup and the consistency in personnel was a big factor in their successful campaign. Olsen’s preference is a relatively defensive variation of 4-5-1, making Christian Poulsen of Juventus key as he anchors a three-man central midfield and brings tremendous experience to the side. With a central three, Denmark rely on attacking wing-play from their veterans Dennis Rommedahl and Martin Jorgensen to feed the lone striker. The rangy threat of Soren Larsen and Nicklas Bendtner add a cutting edge to their solid platform. The former impressed in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, scoring five goals in five games.

Larsen was able to maintain his impressive ratio in qualification this time around, despite having featured in only half of the qualifying games due to injury as he again netted five in five to top score for Denmark in qualification. Despite his prolific scoring, Larsen is likely to be used as an impact substitute with Bendtner leading the line. The lofty striker is never short on confidence and this has been buoyed by an impressive haul of nine goals for Arsenal since his return from injury. Whether the marksmen can convert their proficiency into goals at the tournament remains to be seen, but despite being distinct outsiders for the tournament, they are potential dark horses and will certainly provide a stern examination for any they face side this summer.

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