Statistically speaking, Group B at UEFA EURO 2012 is the one of the toughest preliminary sections ever at a major tournament. The phrases ‘Group of Death’ and ‘nightmare draw’ have been freely bandied about. It speaks volumes when a top-rated international team like Denmark, the 1992 European champions, go into the contest as rank outsiders.
Some 20 years have passed since the Danes’ dashing charge to the continental title in Sweden, but even long-serving boss Morten Olsen accepts there is only a minimal chance of a repeat when the action starts in Poland and Ukraine. However, there is a positive side to the underdog role, the coach believes. “We want to go through, whereas the others are obliged to," Olsen exclusively told FIFA.com, deliberately shifting the burden to succeed onto the Danes’ rivals.
Far from favourites
At 62, Olsen is nothing if not a realist and fully accepts that his side are hardly favourites in this section. “Obviously, I'd rather be among the favourites, but it's not the case. Denmark are not favourites, and that's just the way it is," he stated. Olsen and company face Germany and the Netherlands, currently third and fourth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and Portugal boast a raft of top international stars, headed by 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo. The question is whether these top-class opponents will prove too much for the Danes, or whether the men in red can pull off a shock result or two.
Ever since Olsen took the Danish reins 12 years ago, he has attempted to nurture an attractive short passing game and fast transitions to his front men. With the emergence of a new group of talented and technically gifted younger players, spearheaded by Christian Eriksen, Nicklas Bendtner and William Kvist, Olsen's vision of football has come closer to reality. However, he currently feels Germany have stolen a march on their rivals in this respect. “Obviously, Germany are one of the top favourites for the trophy. They're not only playing winning football, it's great to watch too," he said.
Patchy warm-up programme
The Danes’ build-up to the continental showdown has been not entirely satisfactory. Olsen was particularly dismayed by his side’s lifeless performance against Brazil in Hamburg, concerned that his men showed fundamental frailties on the day. “Above all, we lacked pace in moving the ball into the final third," he said in the wake of a 3-1 defeat to the five-time world champions. That was compounded by a host of individual errors in defence, and salt was even rubbed into the wound by a serious injury to first-choice keeper and captain Thomas Sorensen, who subsequently had to withdraw from the squad.
Measured on the final score, the rearguard put in a far better performance in a friendly against Australia, although with all due respect, the Socceroos hardly boast the potency in attack of the Brazilians or Denmark's group stage opponents. On another day, and with a more ruthless edge in front of goal, the Aussies might have scored a couple of their own, but as it was the Danes kept a clean sheet and won 2-0.
As they approach a classic David against Goliath challenge in Group B, Denmark will at least draw comfort and confidence from going into the eagerly-awaited tournament on the back of a win.