Football fans are already familiar with illustrious names like
Allan Simonsen, Preben Elkjaer, Soren Lerby and Michael Laudrup,
the inspiration for the label Danish Dynamite. Indeed, the
former's performances for Barcelona and Borussia
Monchengladbach in the 1970s made him the first Dane ever to be
crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1977.
A founding member of FIFA, Denmark waited a long time for international success, appearing for the first time in a FIFA World Cup™ finals only in 1986 when they set the Mexico tournament alight with a 6-1 victory over two-time champions Uruguay and finished ahead of Germany in their group with three wins. The run ended in the last 16 with a 5-1 defeat by Spain. Even now, Danes still wince at the name Butragueno, scorer of four goals that day.
Without a doubt, Denmark's greatest football moment to date came six years later in the 1992 European Championship in neighbouring Sweden. Eliminated in the qualifiers, they were reinstated when Yugoslavia withdrew due to internal political conflict.
The Danes seized their chance eagerly. With nothing to lose, they powered their way to the final, where they defeated reigning champions Germany 2-0 courtesy of strikes from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort. It was a sensational campaign almost unheard of in major international football. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup, younger brother of local legend Michael, became household names after the dramatic triumph.
Further success followed for the football-mad nation. Their France 1998 campaign ended with a thrilling - but ultimately disappointing - quarter-final defeat to finalists Brazil, and at Korea/Japan 2002 they again reached the second round before losing to England. Denmark were considered by many to be among the most stylish and coherent teams at UEFA EURO 2004, but they came undone in the quarter-finals, losing 3-0 to Czech Republic.
The Danish Dynamite now turned to the goal of qualifying for Germany 2006. Drawn in arguably the toughest section alongside Ukraine, Turkey and reigning European champions Greece, the Danes finished just a point behind the Turks in third and were forced to settle for a spectating role at the tournament after narrowly missing out on a play-off berth.
EURO 2008 qualifying was another tight affair, with a similarly disappointing end for the team coached by Morten Olsen. Three of the four decisive showdowns with powerful rivals Sweden and Spain ended in defeat, leaving the Danes unable to attain the top-two finish required for a berth at the finals in Austria and Switzerland.
The Danes will now focus their firepower on sealing a place at South Africa 2010. After appearing at the Mexico 1986, France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002 tournaments, Denmark are now out to book a fourth appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals.