Not too many Danes would have been brave enough to predict their team’s automatic qualification for South Africa 2010 after being drawn in a group with Portugal, Sweden and Hungary. It must, therefore, be gratifying for Morten Olsen’s side to have secured a place at their fourth FIFA World Cup™ finals by finishing at the section’s summit.
The contribution of midfielder Daniel Jensen was central to the team’s successful qualification campaign. His 92nd-minute winner in a dramatic 3-2 victory away to Portugal proved to be one of the defining moments in determining the outcome of Group A.
The Danes' participation in South Africa 2010 will end a six-year absence from major international tournaments. Indeed, Jensen was part of the Denmark side that reached the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2004 and, with 46 caps, is one of the more experienced members of Olsen’s squad. The 30-year old believes that despite being drawn in a tough group with Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon, the current crop of Danish players will relish their status as tournament underdogs and are more than capable of causing an upset.
FIFA.com caught up with the former Heerenveen and Real Murcia player to discuss Denmark’s Group E opponents, the importance of a good start, great Danes and his childhood FIFA World Cup memories.
FIFA.com: Daniel, congratulations on Denmark’s qualification for South Africa 2010. Your opening fixture in Group E is against a very strong side in the shape of the Netherlands. What are your expectations for the game?
Daniel Jensen: It’s a tough start and everyone will be looking at that fixture and expecting a Dutch win. However, it’s the opening game and sometimes the unexpected can happen in football. We must use this to our advantage and believe that as the underdog we are capable of causing an upset. It only takes one goal to turn a game and that’s why it’s so important we take our chances.
With only three group games to ensure your progression to the last 16, how important is a win in that first fixture?
A win in the first game would be massive for us based on the quality of the opposition but a point against the Dutch would also be a satisfactory start. To be honest, getting something from an opening game is very important in terms of confidence, but even if you lose there are still two games left to try and turn things around and qualify.
What about another of your Group E opponents Japan. What are their strengths and who would you consider are their best players?
At this point we know very little about Japan and I’m sure if you put the same question to the Japanese they would say exactly the same about Denmark. Having played Korea Republic, who have a similar style to Japan, I would expect their players to be very quick, athletic and fit, as well as being technically gifted on the ball. These are all important qualities when it comes to winning football matches. Our coach Morten Olsen and his staff are excellent at providing the team with video analysis, so when the time is right we will be sure to research all our opponents carefully. Right now though, my focus is firmly with Werder Bremen and the remaining games in the German league. After that I can concentrate on Denmark and the World Cup.
The Danish national team are nicknamed 'FC Solidarity' due to the unity of the team. Is that one spirit of your biggest assets?
It is our main strength. If you look at the game against Portugal when we won away from home, it proved that we believe in each other and never give up. When I think about that game, I still can’t believe it. Even the Danish press said that Hans Christian Andersen couldn’t have written a better fairytale! We went behind, then equalised and, if I’m being honest, we would have been satisfied with a draw. Portugal took the lead and probably should have made it 3-1, but they didn’t take their chances and we levelled the game in the 89th minute.
All we were focused on was keeping it tight until the final whistle, but all of a sudden, the ball fell to me on the edge of the box and I had a go and it went in! You could say that I was lucky with the deflection off Pepe’s back, but you don’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket! Everyone went crazy. It was a goal which further united the team, the fans – and the players with the fans. I’m honoured to have scored it.
Moving on, millions of Danish fans will be glued to their TV sets during South Africa 2010. What are your earliest memories of the World Cup?
It has to be watching the Mexico World Cup in 1986. I was only seven years old so I don’t remember much but Denmark had an excellent team that year and performed really well. The games from that World Cup were shown again and again on TV and the tournament is recognised as a real turning point for football in the history of Danish football.
Finally, which players in particular were your FIFA World Cup heroes?
It has to be Preben Elkjaer and Michael Laudrup. Elkjaer, for his fantastic attitude on the pitch and ability to pick a pass and set up goals and Michael Laudrup, for me, is the greatest Danish player of all time.