Martin Laursen looks every inch the footballer – tall, fit and athletic. But this belies the reality of his situation. Three games into Denmark’s qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, the 32-year-old suffered a knee injury while playing for Aston Villa and was forced to retire from playing. In South Africa, keeping an eye on his country's bid for success, the former international defender speaks to FIFA.com about his country's poor run of injuries leading up to the FIFA World Cup™, the importance of striker Nicklas Bendtner, and his South African experience so far.
FIFA.com: Denmark came into the tournament with a lot of injuries, so it was always going to be quite tough for them out here, wasn't it?
Martin Laursen: That's the pity because we have a good team when we have all our big players ready and in top shape. The problem has been that when we came into this tournament, it was our best players that were injured. Not the ones on the edge of selection, but our best players. Nicklas Bendtner played an hour [against the Netherlands], but before that he hadn't trained for the whole period he has been here. He isn't in top, top shape. Jon Dahl Tomasson, our captain, didn't even play [against the Netherlands], while Daniel Jensen, who is an important player for Denmark, was also injured. And then there is Jakob Poulsen. We don't have a lot of quality players that can just replace other good players. We have some very good players, but if they get injured we are going to struggle.
Did that bad run of injuries knock the confidence in the squad before the tournament had even started?
Yes. It is also a shame for the manager because he has had to rethink and has not been sure who he can play, even the night before a game. So, it gives the players some insecurity too, about who is going to play and how we are going to play. Are we going to play with that player? Or are we going to play with another player? It is always nice for a team to be able to do some tactical work on the pitch before the game with all the players ready and in top shape, and we haven't had that.
He is still not up with the best strikers in the world - I don't think he is in the top ten, but he is getting there.
You had such a good qualifying campaign too.
Yes, we proved there that if all our players are ready and in top shape then we have a good team, a good team that can perform and go through with Holland, without a problem. But we still have a chance.
If you go home after the group stage, will the Danish people be OK with that, considering the injury problems?
We're not Italy, we're not England or Argentina, or Brazil. But still, people in Denmark have expectations and because we did so well in the qualifiers to get here, they expect us to do well. Of course, they can understand that we have had problems but, still, it will be a big disappointment in Denmark if we go home early.
If Nicklas Bendtner was fully fit, what kind of damage could he cause?
It says a lot that he has played a lot for Arsenal, who are a very good team, and he has proved himself in the Champions League, scoring against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. He is still not up with the best strikers in the world - I don't think he is in the top ten, but he is getting there. If he keeps working hard and stays away from injuries, then he has got potential because he is big, he is strong, he has good technique and he is quite fast as well. He can play in the middle, on the left and go in, and he can strike with his right foot.
Is his fitness the key to Denmark progressing in the tournament? Definitely, especially because we don't have another striker. Soren Larsen is not in good shape – he's been injured as well – and Morten Olsen has said that he is far from ready to start the game. But is still not like having Bendtner. It's not like France or England, who can just put on [Jermain] Defoe or [Peter] Crouch. We don't have that in Denmark.
The Netherlands have already qualified from your group – what have you made of them so far?
Their results have been good but their play hasn't been. I didn't watch the game against Japan, but I was told that they didn't play well, and against us they were not playing well. I think they were lucky that we scored an own goal at the beginning of the second half because their play wasn't fluid. They have a lot of good players and are a good, good team, but they haven't impressed yet.