Category: Archive

Defensive Danes at best in big games

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

If there is a surprise package among the 32 nations that will be vying for the greatest prize in team sport next year, it could be in Group A. They may not win it all, but the Danes have a way of upsetting the formbook at such events.

They did it in the summer of ’92 when they called their players back from the beaches of southern Europe to lift the Euro Championship after being invited at the 11th hour to replace warring Yugoslavia.

And they did it again in the second round of France ’98, confounding pundits who’d written them off as sacrificial lambs to the predatory Super Eagles of Nigeria by stunning the mercurial Africans 4-1 in

Paris to reach the quarterfinals.

This is only their third finals, but what the record shows is that the Danes are a good tournament team.

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They were the wonder team of the 13th finals in Mexico, where they announced their arrival on the world stage with a splash worthy of Great Danes.

Touting players like Manchester United’s precocious little playmaker, Jesper Olsen, Liverpool linkman Jan Moelby, a young Michael Laudrup, and the unstoppable Preben Elkj’r, they overran Scotland, Uruguay

and eventual losing finalists West Germany, in that order.

Elkj’r got the only goal in the Scottish match, then hit a hat trick in a 6-1 rout of the rowdy Uruguayans, before taking a breather against Germany, who succumbed 2-0.

In the second round, Denmark were heavily favored to dispose of Spain, but their second-half capitulation in a 5-1 loss, after a 1-1 halftime score, shocked everyone.

They returned to obscurity for six years until resurfacing at Euro ’92 in Sweden, after having failed to qualify. France, their Group A opponents in Japan/Korea ’02, England, Holland (on penalties) and the

luckless Germans (2-0 in the final), all fell before the surprising Danes.

Yet there would be more wandering in the wilderness before another comeback, at France ’98 this time. Captained by the irrepressible Peter Schmeichel, who went into the finals carrying the tag of best goalkeeper in the world, Denmark beat Saudi Arabia 1-0, tied 1-1 with South Africa and,

in a result whose echoes may stir again in Korea, lost 2-1 to the French.

France will be their last game in Group A, on June 11 in Incheon, by which point the Danes may hope to have secured a second round berth from results over Senegal and a probably jittery Uruguayan team.

The core of Danish coach Morten Olsen’s contingent for the 2002 finals should have some semblance to the France ’98 squad. It includes key guys like Ebbe Sand, the educated Schalke 04 striker and testicular

cancer survivor turned goal-poacher; 36-year-old sweeper Jan Heintze, who plays his club soccer with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven; Sunderland goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, a worthy successor to Schmeichel; and the impressive AC Milan midfielder Thomas Helveg.

Sand, who’s 29, is rated as Denmark’s best player. He’s a late bloomer by modern standards, having only signed his first professional contract with Brondby, in 1997, because he wanted to complete his engineering degree first.

Danish Footballer of the Year in the 1997-98 season, during which he finished top scorer (28 goals) and earned his first cap for Denmark, he scored his first international goal 24 seconds after coming on as a sub against Nigeria at France ’98.

Since taking over from Swede Bo Johannson, Olsen has woven together a

tight, coherent side whose other notable members are Everton’s Thomas Gravesen, Udinese midfielder Martin Jorgensen and the rehabbing Jesper Gronkj’r of Chelsea.

Collectively, they turned qualification into a walk in the park in Group 3, at the expense of Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Iceland. Denmark topped the group without losing a game, posting six victories and four draws. They showed what their forte is in scoring 22 goals while conceding six: defense.

After defeating Nigeria at France ’98, the Danes played Brazil close before slipping 3-2 in the quarterfinals, their best performance in their two previous trips to the finals.

Coach Olsen has his sights on at least a Round of 16 appearance in Asia, and believes that Senegal may be the Danes’ main competitors for second place in a group that world champions France are expected to win

“All the groups are difficult, but if things go right for us, we should

have a chance to go ahead with a second place in our group,”; he said after the first-round draw in Pusan last month.

“We have to try to spoil the play with France and I think we have to play for the second place with Senegal.”

(Each week Jay Mwamba previews a World Cup finalist. The teams profiled to this point are Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and Germany.)

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