As any striker will tell you, the only stat that really matters is goals scored, and when it comes to international football few can match the record of Denmark's Soren Larsen. In the past two FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns, the 28-year-old netted an impressive ten goals in as many games. Unsurprisingly, the Dane finished top scorer in European Zone Group 1 en route to South Africa 2010, leaving superstars such as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his wake.
Even more impressive is Larsen's efficiency; the towering front-man required just 308 minutes for his five strikes during the most recent qualification race. "I feel comfortable playing in the national team's system. I've played in the same formation for 15 years now, so I know how it works and it fits my game well. I get more chances in the national team, certainly more than I get at club level."
Born in the Danish town of Koge, Larsen had spells at Swedish club Djurgardens and Schalke of the German Bundesliga before moving on to French Ligue 1 side Toulouse in 2008. "I didn't really hit my stride there because my strike partner (France international Andre-Pierre Gignac) took all the limelight by scoring over 20 goals in a season. I did score five goals in three games at one point, though, so I can't have been that bad. When I play, I do tend to score, but of course I have to be playing for that to happen."
That was precisely the reason Larsen decided to swap the French top flight for the German second tier and MSV Duisburg, a move many viewed as a step backwards. "After a year spent mostly on the bench at Toulouse, it had to be worth a try and it turned out to be the right choice. Unfortunately I've had my fair share of injury problems at Duisburg as well, though."
"I need to get back to full fitness as soon as possible. If I can manage that in two or three weeks, then that should leave me with enough time to make the World Cup squad. I was top scorer in our qualifying group and I bring a lot of experience to the team," said Larsen confidently. "I think if I stay fit, I should be in the squad, but you never know. We have a number of quality alternatives up front."
Based on previous tournaments, Denmark have every reason to expect progression from the group stage this June having reached the second round at Mexico 1986 and Japan/Korea 2002, as well as the quarter-finals at France 1998. "For me, the EURO 1984 and 1986 World Cup team with Michael Laudrup and Jan Molby is the best Denmark has ever produced. The whole world stood up and took notice of that team as they played some terrific football. We played well at France 1998 too, though, and I'll never forget the match against Brazil." In South Africa, the Danes face a tough task if they are to advance into the knockout stages after being drawn in Group E alongside the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon.
"Anything is possible. If we can pick up a point against both the Netherlands and Cameroon and beat Japan, then that would give us five points and I think that would be enough to see us through. It's our goal to make it past the group stage," said Larsen, before explaining why he feels the Scandinavians are more than capable of securing a draw against the in-form Dutch: "We drew 1-1 in the Netherlands a year ago and I've no doubt that we can do the same again. We have a good side too."
"Our main strength is our team spirit. We keep things tight and try to get forward with plenty of passing down the flanks. It's very similar to the Netherlands really but not quite at the same level. We fight for one another, so if someone makes a mistake, we run the extra 100 metres to help them out. We had a lot of injuries to deal with during qualifying, but we still managed to grind out some good results. That shows the character of the squad, but we can play some decent football too. It's not going to be easy playing against us."
Larsen credits national coach Morten Olsen, a Danish football legend in his own right, with playing a major part in the team's success in recent years. "He's 60 years old, played a lot of football and has coached for even longer. He always gets the best out of his players and is usually good for a surprise tactically."
In terms of winning the FIFA World Cup, Larsen admits Denmark are still some way off and nominates Spain as his personal favourites for the title: "The Spanish have been in great form since they won EURO 2008. If it's Spain against Brazil in the final, I wouldn't want to predict the winner. I think the Spanish are perhaps the better team, but only if they play at 100 per cent."
However South Africa 2010 pans out for Denmark, European champions in 1992, Larsen is planning to be a part of the squad for many years to come. That said, he will be 32 when the 2014 FIFA World Cup comes around and is taking nothing for granted: "Denmark don't qualify for every tournament, so you never know, 2010 could be my last World Cup".
With football's showpiece event just a few months away, Larsen insists he is "fully focussed on Duisburg" for the time being, though it is clear the 1.93m marksman can hardly wait to represent his country on the biggest stage once more. "It's going to be a great tournament. It's the first time a World Cup is being held in Africa, so it's bound to be special."