Despite the fact that they have missed just one European Championship since 1980 and despite thrilling observers with their insouciant style throughout the mid-eighties, Denmark’s relationship with international football conjures one story above all others – the victorious summer of 1992.
It is, perhaps, the most romantic story the tournament has ever told. Newly appointed Coach Richard Moller Nielsen commenced preparations for qualification by overseeing an overhaul of the squad which had left viewers drooling with their swashbuckling, carefree football. They picked up just one point from their opening two games – crucially floundering to defeat in Yugoslavia. Winning their final five games was not enough to dispose of the Yugoslav pacesetters as group leaders. The Danes prepared themselves for a summer on the beach.
Owing to international sanctions against the Yugoslav wars, Moller Nielsen’s team were granted a reprieve, and so began the most unlikely European Championships campaign of all. If the side which illuminated the Euro ’84 and Mexico ’86 melted the hearts of neutrals with their attack-minded swagger, the class of ’92 were altogether more pragmatic. Buoyed by the presence of recent Manchester United recruit Peter Schmeichel in goal, the most industrious side the tournament has witnessed – their attitude epitomised by the ceaseless efforts of Kim Vilfort and Fleming Polvsen in attack – ground their way to the final. Astonishingly, even the obdurate Germany were worn down in a stunning climax as Vilfort added to John Jensen’s opener to seal the most improbable of victories.
It is to this story that Denmark must look for inspiration this summer as they head to Poland and Ukraine’s jamboree. They are the outsiders in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’, facing a mini-league of Germany, Holland and Portugal.
Nevertheless, it is easily forgotten that the Portuguese were beaten to first place in qualifying by the Danes – largely the result of conceding just six goals in their eight-match qualifying campaign. Indeed, in Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger, the Danes boast one of the finest centre-back pairings the competition has to offer – a combination of muscularity and poise in possession, the envy of plenty of competitors. Both will need to reach the peak of their powers and, equally importantly, stay free of injury considering the relative lack of international experience lining up in goal behind them. Should the Netherlands’ troubles attempting to fit Klass Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie into the same team persist, and Germany’s hapless disorganisation during the 5-3 defeat to Switzerland continue into the tournament, Denmark’s solidity equips them with the ability to capitalise.
Whilst the triumvirate of Poulsen’s – Jakob, Simon and Christian – do not set pulses racing, Christian Eriksen has the world at his feet. The Ajax midfielder combines elegance and devastating accuracy, and it may be that his confidence on the back of a successful season with the Amsterdam giants presents the Danes’ greatest hope. And if Niklas Bendtner’s international record – 18 goals in 47 games – does not quite back up his delusions of world-defeating grandeur, it similarly contradicts the perception that he is something of a no-hoper.
The Sunderland loanee scored what proved to be the winner in the qualification-clinching showdown with Portugal in October. A repeat would set the Danes up very nicely for an attempt to reach the benchmark set in 1992.
One to watch – Christian Eriksen: Few players in recent memory have been the target of gushing Johann Cruyff praise. Of Eriksen, however, the legendary proponent of Total Football proclaimed: “He is a player I like with all of my heart. You can compare him with Michael and Brian Laudrup. Only time will tell if he can reach that level.” Euro 2012 may be the tournament in which the comparison becomes reality.
Possible starting XI:
Jacobsen – Kjaer – Agger – Poulsen
Zimling – Kvist
Rohmmedahl – Eriksen – Kahlenberg
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