'Disappointment' was the word used by every single Denmark player following their 3-1 defeat to Japan in the do-or-die group meeting between the sides. It was less 'Danish Dynamite' and more 'damp squib' as the Danes spectacularly failed to explode against Samurai Blue, the Asians progressing to the last 16 at the Europeans’ expense. "I’m devastated. I honestly believed we could do it, so I’m extremely disappointed now,” a visibly downcast skipper Jon Dahl Tomasson told FIFA after his country’s historically premature exit from the finals.
The Scandinavians had set their sights high before embarking on their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ adventure only to be hauled back down to earth on losing their opening match 2-0 to the Netherlands, and then conceding an early goal to Cameroon in their second fixture. But the Danes staged a courageous fightback and battled to a 2-1 victory over the Indomitable Lions. Suddenly, belief and confidence flowed through the squad, in the knowledge that victory over Japan would bring a place in the Round of 16. However, the skilful Japanese had established a 2-0 lead before half-time and never looked in danger of losing after that.
Olsen’s uncertain future
"We’ve lost, and there’s nothing more to say," Lars Jacobsen told FIFA, pulling no punches in assessing his team’s display: "We’ve disgraced ourselves, and the nation of Denmark too. Our target was to make the next round and I was convinced we’d do it, but that’s not what’s happened. We simply weren’t good enough, and that's the biggest disappointment of the lot."
Coach Morten Olsen offered a similar analysis. "It's a deep disappointment and a disgrace too, but at the end of the day, we have to accept it. That's football." Following the Danes’ first-ever group stage elimination at the FIFA World Cup, the 60-year-old faces an uncertain future at the national helm. "Let me take my vacation first, and we’ll see what happens after that," he commented.
Jesper Gronkjaer and Martin Jorgensen chose not to waste any time thinking things over and announced their retirements from the national team straight after the game. "I’m giving up now and I’ll start looking after my body. I think I’ve made my contribution to the team effort for long enough now," the 32-year-old Gronkjaer said. Jorgensen, two years his senior, indicated that his decision was long-planned: "I told Morten before the World Cup that I’d go. And that’s what I’m doing right now."
Blend of young and old
Denmark's FIFA World Cup adventure may be over, but there is little time for recriminations and wound-licking. The Scandinavians need to be back on top form by September for the first qualifiers in the battle for places at UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, where they face Portugal, Norway, Cyprus and initial opponents Iceland in Group H.
Players such as Tomasson (34), who ended his 1,116-minute goal drought for the national team against Japan and is now Denmark’s leading scorer at the finals with five goals, marauding striker Dennis Rommedahl (31) and keeper Thomas Sorensen (34) are likely to stay on. However, the new Denmark will also feature a crop of promising youngsters. "The likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Christian Eriksen mean the future has already arrived. These two and our other youngsters will now need to assume greater responsibility," said Olsen. Bendtner is already an Arsenal regular when fit, and Eriksen has been hailed at home as the new Brian Laudrup. "He’s just at the start of his career and will be extremely important to us in the future," the coach continued.
The foundation for a better future appears to be laid. The key thing now will be for the entire squad to bounce back from the disappointment, because as Olsen said, "we win together, and we lose together.”