Qualifying Group Winners
Coach: Morten Olsen
One to Watch: Christian Eriksen
As we approach the summer of 2012 all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It’s All In The Game, I shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists that will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
We travel to Scandinavia for the next in the series of Euro 2012 profiles, to take a look at Denmark. Although Denmark competed at the first official international football tournament at the 1908 Olympics, the Danish Football Association (DBU) adopted a policy to keep the Danish side amateur, mainly due to economic limitations, and bar professionals from selection.
During this time Denmark played friendlies; their only forays into international competition being at the Olympics in 1948, 1952 and 1960, and involvement in the European Cup of Nations in 1964. The DBU finally relaxed the law banning professionals from the national team in 1971 in order to build a competitive team and, in 1978, the authority allowed the creation of a professional league. Since then the Danes have become a reasonable force in international football, qualifying for four World Cup Finals and making five appearances at the European Championships.
The 1980s saw a “Golden Generation” of Danish football as the Danes exploded onto the international stage. Qualification for Euro 84 in France was followed up by a magnificent run to the semi-finals, where they were edged out on penalties by the Spanish. Under coach Sepp Piontek, with his quick, attacking style of play and with exciting, pacey, skilful players such as Elkjaer and the Laudrup brothers, first Michael and later Brian, Denmark captured the imagination and the term “Danish Dynamite” was coined.
In 1986, in Mexico, Denmark competed in their first World Cup Finals and, taking the tournament by storm, they blew away well fancied Uruguay in their opening game, defeating the South Americans 6-1. Michael Laudrup and Elkjaer combined to devastating effect and the touch, pace and skill of the Danish eleven were far too much for the Uruguayans to handle.
Unfortunately for Laudrup and co., the run ultimately ended in defeat, in equally emphatic fashion, going down 1-5, again to Spain, in the last 16. The Danes had, however, succeeded in winning the hearts of the watching public. Qualification for Euro 1988 ensued, however, Denmark failed to emerge from the group stage, losing all three games; failure to qualify for Italia 90 followed.
Denmark’s finest hour came, very unexpectedly, in 1992. Problems surfaced within the squad under the new coach Richard Moller Nielson during the qualification process for Euro 92. After the effective resignation of star players Michael and Brian Laudrup, in protest over the new, more defensive strategy, many in the Danish press called for the coach to be replaced.
The Danes finished the qualifying group for Euro 92 in second place behind Yugoslavia and therefore failed to qualify for the competition in Sweden. Weeks later, a vicious civil war broke out in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav team was banned from competing internationally. Having finished just behind the excluded nation, Denmark were admitted entrance to the tournament only ten days before it was due to begin.
Building on the goalkeeping excellence of Peter Schmeichel, the stubborn defence in front of him and utilising the flair and creativity of Brian Laudrup, who had reversed his prior decision to retire, the Danes put together a tremendous run to win the tournament. The success was no fluke, nor was it achieved by taking the easy route as Denmark defeated the defending champions, Holland, in the semi, and the then World Cup holders, Germany, 2-0 in the final.
Since then Denmark have continued to be a recognised force in international football, qualifying for most major tournaments, but not advancing beyond the first knock-out stage at any of them. Current coach Morten Olsen has been in charge since 2000 and has overseen qualification to four finals tournaments, including this year’s.
The current squad qualified impressively for Poland and Ukraine, topping a group which included Portugal and Norway, winning six games and losing only one. Looking at the squad now, it is fairly similar to that of 2010, they have strong defenders such as Agger and Jacobsen with plenty of experience and strength in depth.
The Danes also have some exciting young talent, including Christian Eriksen of Ajax, the youngest man to be capped by Denmark since Michael Laudrup. Eriksen is one to look out for next summer, the 19 year old was named Player of the Year by the Danish FA last year, and was an ever-present in the qualifying campaign. Under Frank de Boer Ajax have just won their first league title in six years, with Eriksen playing a major part in his club’s success.
The youngster, who plays with a maturity well beyond his years, yet a flair which is very much of them, is highly coveted and is known to be on the radars of Manchester United, AC Milan and Liverpool. He is an attacking midfielder who can play anywhere across the line but he is particularly effective playing from the left. His speed of thought, touch and playmaking ability have seen him shine for Ajax in this season’s Champions League, and he looks certain to make headlines in Poland and Ukraine.
This Denmark side would normally have every chance of getting as far as the knock-out stages of a major tournament, potentially further. As a footballing entity the Danes have tended to emerge from the group stages at major championships fairly consistently. This Danish squad is better than it has been for the last few tournaments, with a close, tight-knit set up, good results in qualifying, experience and several exciting youngsters coming through, this could be their year to go a little further.
This optimism must be tempered though, as Denmark have been drawn into the “Group of Death”. There is always one at major tournaments, especially the Euros where the competition is so fierce and, unfortunately for the Danes, they’re in it, along with Portugal, Holland and Germany. It is not all bad news for the Danes, they did, as mentioned above, top a qualifying group which contained Portugal, beating them once on the way to that success, however, if they were to emerge from this group it would be a major shock.
Holland and Germany are amongst many observers’ favourites to claim the title in the summer, with Portugal seen as “dark horses” for the big prize, so, if the Danes are to triumph, they will have to perform to their utmost potential. That said, their attacking, pacey skilful style of play is fantastic to watch on the international stage and they are an interesting proposition. If they escape from the group with their lives, and it’s a big IF, they may just go all the way.
Eriksen image by Martini DK. Fans image by Eustaquio Santimano.