Can one man carry the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders on a stage as daunting as the FIFA World Cup™? Well, if anyone can do so for Denmark at South Africa 2010, it is surely Nicklas Bendtner.
Undoubtedly the biggest outfield name the country has boasted since Preben Elkjaer-Larsen and the Laudrup brothers, the Arsenal forward now hopes to headline another Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, resembling the one that was written in 1992, when Richard Moller Nielsen’s unsung youngsters immortalised themselves by winning the UEFA European Championship.
Bendtner was undoubtedly at the front of the queue when self-confidence was dished out. But, especially this season, the 22-year-old has validated his talk with some outstanding performances. Indeed, his hat-trick in the Gunners’ victory over Porto in the UEFA Champions League and his crucial goal for Morten Olsen's team a 1-1 draw with Portugal in South Africa 2010 qualifying suggested he has the talent to illuminate the global finals. FIFA.com caught up with Bendtner in London to discuss Denmark’s first-phase opponents and ambitions for the tournament.
FIFA.com: Nicklas, what are your expectations for South Africa 2010?
Nicklas Bendtner: I expect that we will go there and have a great campaign. If we don’t qualify from our group it will be a huge disappointment. What happens if we qualify for the next phase is impossible to say. Judging from the match schedule, it looks as if we might play against Italy in the last 16, and to face the reigning world champions would of course be a major test for us.
What are your personal goals for the tournament?
To help Denmark win the tournament and to end up as the leading goalscorer! (laughs)
Morten Olsen doesn’t have a huge pool of players from which to select. How important is it, therefore, that your best players are fit for South Africa 2010?
We don’t have as many options as some of the big nations, and it’s therefore very important that our best players are available. It’s especially crucial that those who play in positions in which we don’t have many alternatives remain fit. If they can remain fit throughout the tournament, I believe we can go far. It’s also extremely important that the players are ready mentally as well as physically.
What do you make of your Group E opponents, namely the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon?
I have extensive knowledge of the Dutch players. We have played against the Netherlands before, I have played against some of them for Arsenal in Europe, and then of course there is my team-mate Robin van Persie. They are one of outsiders to win the World Cup. As for Cameroon, they are very big and strong physically, while the Japanese are very small but also very quick. We’re going to be up against three teams with different styles, so it’s certainly going to be a tricky test for us.
How do Denmark compare to some of the big favourites for gold at South Africa 2010?
It’s important that we stay realistic. Of course we’re going there to win the tournament, but having said that, we don’t have the same means as other big countries. We are only a small country of five million people, not 50 million, and we must recognise that we’re not travelling to South Africa as the best team in the world. However, we’ll do our very best. Denmark have produced plenty of upsets in football history, so why not again?