With star striker Nicklas Bendtner already thrown out of London nightspot Boujis last year with his trousers around his knees, the worry for Denmark ahead of their fourth World Cup finals campaign is that the coming month will leave them further exposed.
Morten Olsen, now in his tenth year as national coach, can rely on a relatively solid back line marshalled by Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and – knee problems permitting – the hugely promising 21 year-old Simon Kjær, coming from a second straight outstanding season at Palermo. The cunning thuggery of holding midfielder Christian Poulsen should, moreover, function as additional insurance. Unfortunately, Denmark have little more to offer beyond this defensive stability, and look set for an uphill struggle at the other end of the pitch.
Olsen has just three strikers in his squad – Bendtner, the megalithic Søren Larsen and captain Jon Dahl Tomasson. Whether this triumvirate have the requisite firepower for a sustained World Cup challenge is open to debate. Tomasson may have knocked in 11 goals in 24 games for Feyenoord this season, but five of those came in the first six games and at 33 years of age, his mobility has increasingly come to resemble that of Sepp Blatter after a particularly generous lunch buffet.
Larsen, meanwhile, only managed ten league appearances for MSV Duisburg in the 2. Bundesliga, and anybody opening a sports paper over the previous eighteen months will know that Bendtner talks a rather better game than he usually plays. Despite his often awkward performances on the right side of his club’s three-man attack, the hope is that the Arsenal striker will be able to contribute more when restored to his preferred central position in the Danish offensive line-up.
Throughout much of Olsen’s tenure, Denmark have relied on their midfield to save their bacon, with the midfielders in the squad accounting for over 40 international goals between them. However, the Danish public – despite almost unanimous general backing for the coach – have queried the fact that, aside from 18 year-old Ajax prospect Christian Eriksen, the squad’s midfielders have an average age of just under 29. How long the ageing legs of Dennis Rommedahl (31), Jesper Gronkjær (32) and Martin Jørgensen (34) can continue to compensate for Denmark’s goal-scoring deficiencies is, it seems, an increasingly pressing question.
In other words, it should be no surprise that although Denmark conceded only five goals in qualifying for the tournament – the same as Spain and one less than England – in doing so they scored fewer goals of their own than any other European side in South Africa. It could plausibly be argued that their presence at the finals is, in fact, largely due to the abject performances of both their principal group rivals, namely Sweden and Portugal.
Portugal conceding three goals in the last 20 minutes to hand Denmark a 3-2 win in Lisbon was bad enough. Sweden, however, in a completely unnecessary application of a 198-year tradition of neutrality, handed a 1-0 victory to their medieval overlords in front of a sold-out Råsunda – on the country’s national day, no less – in the biggest Swedish supporting act since Ursula Andress’s bikini in Dr No. Former UEFA President Lennart Johansson may have been weeping with patriotic fervour in the VIP box during the national anthems, but he was probably crying for very different reasons afterwards.
In summary, although Denmark have the defensive resources to stifle the world-class attacking capabilities of the Netherlands or Cameroon, their chances of outscoring either of their main Group E rivals look slim. Only by successfully nullify the threats of Arjen Robben and Samuel Eto’o and avoiding defeat in these two opening matches – still no easy task – can Denmark enter their final group game against Japan with a reasonable chance of progress. The question then will be how well an ageing midfield and a blunt strikeforce, just like Niklas Bendtner’s belt, are able to hold up.
Also See: Denmark World Cup 2010 Squad.