Denmark crash out as Germany advance

Posted by Tom Beck

Denmark failed to qualify for the quarter finals following their 2-1 loss to Germany in Lyiv.

Despite Michael Krohn-Dehli clawing a goal back for the Danes, goals from Lukas Podolski and Lars Bender meant that the Germans top the group and qualify to face Greece in the first quarter final.

Needing a win against one of the tournaments favourites, Denmark went into the game as underdogs against a German side with the lowest average ever to compete in the European Championships.

With less than twenty minutes on the clock, Lukas Podolski broke the deadlock to cap his 100th appearance for his country. A throw on from the right wing landed at the feet of Thomas Muller, who did well to turn and put a ball into the 6-yard box. The driven ball deflected off Mario Gomez, who failed to control, and into the path of the deadly Podolski, who was ready to pounce on the loose ball and slam into the net to mark his centenary game in the national colours.

However, despite the German dominance, just 6 minutes later, Denmark grabbed an equaliser against the run of play. Following good work from the aged Dennis Rommedahl to win a corner on the right flank, Lars Jacobsen hit a raking ball into the box from the set piece. Again, the ball was aimed for Nicklas Bendtner; he jumped highest to head the ball back towards goal before Michael Krohn-Delhi redirected the ball over the helpless Neuer to score his second goal of the tournament and drag Denmark back into the game.

Towards the end of the first half, Germany continued to camp inside the Danish half and went close when Lukas Podolski struck a vicious free kick over the bar from the edge of the box before Sami Khedira shot wide when in space inside the Danish area.

With Denmark needing at least a draw to qualify, pending other results, the famous red and white returned from the interval looking to press Germany. With five minutes gone in the second half, the underdogs almost took a shock lead when Jacob Poulsen grazed the base of Neuer’s post from a lovely passing move down the left flank.

The Danes began to show much more invention and creativity during the second half as Bendtner started to influence the attacking play in the final third.

With Denmark in need of one more goal to confirm qualification, they were cruelly punished for pushing forward. With Simon Poulsen completely out of position following his advance up field to attack, the Danish back line was stretched. As Poulsen lost possession, the Germans counter attacked with fluidity and pace to deservedly take the lead with just ten minutes to play. Khedira broke from midfield and found Mesut Ozil, whose over hit pass to the recently introduced Miroslav Klose was collected by Lars Bender at the back post to tuck the ball into the corner. Bender’s first international goal was a hammer blow to the Danish fortunes and the Olsen Gang were unable to steal a late second as they crashed out in the group stage.

Denmark leave the tournament with their heads held high, finishing 3rd in the proverbial ‘Group of Death’. They held on to their one goal lead against Netherlands in their first group game and were unfortunate not to take at least a point away from their game with Portugal. Their defensive approach managed to restrict their opponents, however, this limited their options in the final third and the Danes often looked to have little inspiration when going forward. Christian Eriksen improved slightly as the tournament progressed but will still feel that he could have offered and provided much more.

The defensive duo at the heart of the Danish defence, Simon Kjaer and captain Daniel Agger both had good tournaments and certainly kept Denmark in the tournament on several occasions. Nicklas Bendtner’s performance and two goals against Portugal in their second group game will be seen as a personal highlight for the controversial striker.

The nation outstripped their initial expectations for the tournament and although Morten Olsen could not lead his side to glory, or even into the next round, he should feel proud of their efforts and discipline throughout the Championships.

Danes plot upset in Group B decider

Posted by Tom Beck

Denmark head into their final game in Group B needing at least a draw to have any chance of qualification into the quarter-finals. Should the Danes beat Germany in Lyiv, the famous red and white will qualify automatically due to their head to head record. However, should the Olsen Gang draw with Germany tomorrow evening, they will need Holland to do them a favour by beating Portugal for them to qualify.

These two sides faced each other in the Euro 1992 final, their last competitive fixture. The Danes won a famous victory, 2-0, following goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort to win their first and only major tournament. Germany have beaten Denmark 14 times in their last 25 fixtures, however, in their three most recent games, Denmark are unbeaten, winning twice.

Germany looked dominant in their 2-1 victory over Holland on Wednesday, as they taught the Dutch a lesson on finishing against their opportunities. Mario Gomez, tournament joint top goal scorer, scored twice despite having possession for just 18 seconds all game. Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger will have to replicate the form they produced against the Netherlands in their first game of the tournament if they are going to prevent the lethal Bayern Munich striker from adding to his tally. William Kvist will also have a tough job stopping Real Madrid’s creative lynchpin, Mesut Ozil as he scurries between the lines.

Going forward, Christian Eriksen has not shone in his two games this tournament and was replaced just after the hour mark against Portugal. He will need to be inspirational if Denmark to sneak a point against the prolific Germans. Nicklas Bendtner is full of confidence following his two goal display against the Portuguese and will be hoping to continue his goal scoring feat into the Danes’ last group game.

Denmark will be without their experienced winger, Dennis Rommedahl, after picking up a hamstring injury in their 3-2 defeat to Portugal. The more complete Tobias Mikkelsen will replace the 33-year-old Brondby winger. Despite Rommedahl’s valuable experience from his 118 caps for his country, Mikkelsen will provide a technically gifted ball playing winger, rather than just merely pure pace down the flanks.

In other team news, Jakob Poulsen will start in front of Niki Zimling after the Club Brugge centre midfielder hobbled off the pitch during their last game with a calf strain. Jakob Poulsen has been chosen over Christian Poulsen and will have to work hard defensively, something he is not used to, following Zimling’s untimely injury.

Probable line-ups:

Denmark (4-2-3-1): Andersen; Jacobsen, Agger, Kjaer, S Poulsen; Kvist, J Poulsen; Mikkelsen, Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli; Bendtner

Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Bender, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Muller, Ozil, Podolski; Gomez

Preventing the Portuguese

Posted by Tom Beck
© AP Photo, Getty Images

Denmark face familiar opposition on Wednesday as they take on Portugal in Lyiv.

The Danes head into the tie leading the group following their surprise 1-0 victory over Holland. Portugal, on the other hand, desperately need to win the game if they are to give themselves a real chance of qualification for the quarter-finals.

In qualification for the European Championships, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portuguese side faced Denmark in Group H. The last of these games, which Denmark won 2-1, resulted in the Danes topping the group and forced Portugal to play in the dreaded two-legged play-off against Bosnia.

With a good record against Portugal during qualification, Denmark will feel confident of continuing their fine form against their familiar foe. However, to do so, they must slightly alter their shape.

Against the Netherlands, the Danish left back, Simon Poulsen, was very advanced on the left flank. William Kvist and Niki Zimling both cover Poulsen’s and Jacobsen’s attacking forays into the opposition half, however, against Portugal they may be caught out. One option Morten Olsen has is to replace Poulsen, who admittedly did have a good game against Holland, with Michael Silberbauer.

Silberbauer had been given the task of man-marking Cristiano Ronaldo during their fixtures against each other in qualification. He is more defensively responsible, which is a critical attribute when looking to prevent the Real Madrid wide-man.

Denmark have every right to feel bullish. They have been labeled the weakest team in the proverbial ‘Group of Death’ and yet mastered a competitive victory against Holland in their first game. Earlier this week, Nani stated the importance of their game against Denmark. "We need to win, because then we'll only be depending on ourselves [to qualify]. We're going to try and attack, because that's the only way we'll be able to win."

The Danes play very patient football; very rarely do you see Stephan Andersen hit a long goal kick as Morteb Olsen prefers a slower build-up tempo that includes ensuring star-man and creative inspiration, Christian Eriksen, sees a lot of the ball in midfield.

Simon Kjaer and captain Daniel Agger will again be pivotal to Denmark’s fortunes. Both centre backs played superbly and provided memorable rear-guard action for their country against Holland and will have to replicate similar performances again if Denmark are to stun their opposition once more.

Just one point for Denmark would put the national even closer to a quarter-final berth, whilst Portugal will be desperate to leave Lyiv with all three points. For Denmark to take points from the game, they must prevent and frustrate Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani on either wing, whilst also restricing Raul Meirieles’ influence through the centre of midfield – which is certainly easier said than done.

The Danes will have to work hard for each other, particularly defensively, and hope that luck shines on them. Victory will not be easy, but as Daniel Agger’s tattoo states: Pain is Temporary, Victory is Forever.

Probable line-ups:

Denmark (4-2-3-1): Andersen; Jacobsen, Agger, Kjaer, Silberbauer; Kvist, Zimling; Rommedahl, Eriksen, Krohn-Dehli; Bendtner

Portugal (4-3-3) Patricio; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrao; Veloso, Meireles, Moutinho; Ronaldo, Postiga, Nani

Functionality over fashion

Posted by Tom Beck

Danish discipline defeated Dutch drive to pull off a shock victory in the first match in Group B. Despite Netherlands dominating for the vast majority of the match, the Danes held on to record a famous victory following Michael Krohn-Dehli’s well-taken goal as well as tireless defensive work from the Danish back four.

Both Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger were superb at the heart of the Denmark defence to keep the ever-dangerous Robin van Persie frustrated throughout the game. William Kvist and Niki Zimling also provided critical cover as Wesley Sneijder looked to inspire Netherlands onwards.

From the first whistle, Netherlands looked to dictate the play and held possession mainly in the opposition’s half with patient and measured passing. The Danes, on the other hand, appeared content to slow the tempo of the tie and remain positionally disciplined without much freedom offensively.

The first of Netherlands' 32 attempts on goal fell to Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben. The fleet footed winger collected Robin van Persie’s return ball on the right of the box and unselfishly looked to play in Ibrahim Affelay at the far post when he really should have taken the shot on himself.

Firmly against the run of play, Denmark took the lead in the 24th minute. Zimling fought well to win the ball back in the centre of midfield before releasing Simon Poulsen, who had a very good game, down the wing. His deflected cross fell to the feet of Krohn-Dehli, who cleverly shifted the ball from right to left on the edge of the box before slipping the ball through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg for the Danes to grab a one-goal advantage and stun their opponents.

Next followed what was the first of two strong penalty appeals for the Dutch. Following Agger’s headed clearance, the ball bounced inside the area and struck Simon Poulsen on the hand as the spin on the ball caught the left back out. However, to Bert van Marwijk’s surprise, the referee waved away the Dutch appeals.

Following the goal, Denmark gained confidence and began to pass the ball about the pitch, with Simon Poulsen advancing down the left flank and supporting the Danish forwards every time they broke on the counter.

Moments before half-time, a terrible mistake from Stephan Andersen gifted Robben the ball 30 yards out from goal after a dreadful goal kick. The underconfident wide-man easily intercepted the clearance and advanced forwards before bending a wicked effort that struck the foot of the post.

Following the half-time interval, Netherlands quickened their tempo and began to look for more direct and earlier passes. Arsenal’s prolific hitman, Van Persie had two openings within the initial few minutes after the break as the Dutch began to find gaps. The Danes continued to clear their lines and performed as a compact and solid unit defensively, despite almost all of the possession being held by Netherlands inside the Danish half.

Wesley Sneijder continued to provide the Oranje’s main creative spark; however, even with the introduction of Schalke’s 48-goal man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch could not create clear-cut openings for their front two as the famous red and white of Denmark continued to frustrate and overperform.

With just one minute of normal time remaining in the tie, the Dutch continued to pile pressure onto Stephan Andersen’s goal. Lars Jacobsen clearly handled the ball twice inside the box yet, again, referee Damir Skomina refused to point to the spot. Netherlands' bemused coach Van Marwijk said after the game: “It is such a clear penalty, and then you likely get a draw.”

This fixture represented two sides with opposing styles of football. Whilst the Dutch displayed neat and tidy short passing with intricate runs off the ball, it was the Danish discipline, positional awareness and togetherness to guard their goal that eventually resulted in them, perhaps fortunately, taking all three points. Purists may regard their victory as unappealing, but it was a terrific defensive display that should be appreciated and applauded.

Denmark were not expected to make much impact on Group B, which also includes Germany and Portugal, but this performance displays the importance of every side in the competition. Should the Danes take just one point away from their next match against Portugal next Wednesday, the Olsen Gang may be heading towards a very unexpected quarter-final draw.

Escaping the Group of Death

Posted by Tom Beck

On December 2, 2011 in Kiev, Ukraine, the draw for the Euro 2012 group stage was announced.  Fans of the individual nations will have taken note of their group competitors but will also have been on the alert for the notorious ‘Group of Death’. This came about in Group B. Denmark were drawn against favourites Germany, World Cup runners-up Holland and Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal.

Hyperbole of a ‘Group of Death’ surrounds every draw and every tournament; however, Group B is easily the most competitive of all four groups in this year’s competition.

Having managed the Danish national team for over 12 years, Morten Olsen understands the difficulties of international fixtures with a smaller nation but despite not qualifying for Euro 2008, he and his compatriots would have been hoping for a smoother path into the quarter finals.

The Scandinavians claimed top spot in Group H during qualification for the European Championships, winning six of their eight games whilst finishing three points above their Group B rivals, Portugal. The Danes will also take confidence from their final qualification group game where they beat Portugal 2-1 to avoid the dreaded play-off.

The media and supporters of larger countries have ruled Denmark out of contention following their tough draw, but the underdog tag will favour the famous red and white. Denmark were, as widely known, only included in Euro ’92 due to Yugoslavia’s involvement in the Yugoslav wars, yet Richard Moller Nielsen shocked the tournament and Europe by leading Denmark to their first and only major international trophy despite their best player, Michael Laudrup, refusing any involvement.

For Denmark to replicate such success, they must first qualify from their group. Their opening match against Holland will give the nation and supporters a more accurate assessment of whether the smallest footballing nation in Group B will be able to compete. Ajax’s sought after lynchpin, 20 year old Christian Eriksen, will be hoping to impress potential suitors in his second major international competition, following his two game flash in the 2010 World Cup. His link-up with the controversial and inconsistent Nicklas Bendtner will prove critical, should Denmark make an impact on the tournament.

Defensively, William Kvist should give some solidarity to their midfield and provide the Danes with a player who can put his foot on the ball and keep possession; a useful tool when competing against the likes of Germany. Captain and leader, Daniel Agger, provides the backbone to the side and will be heavily relied on to keep the 138 goal combined threat of Mario Gomez, Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo at bay. His partnership with Simon Kjaer will be key.

Morten Olsen’s Denmark will be hoping to upset the apple cart next Saturday when his side face Netherlands in the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, Ukraine. A repeat of their Euro 1992 success is unlikely but do not be surprised should the Olsen Gang take three points away from any of their group rivals.

Sorensen out of Denmark squad

Posted by Tom Beck

Thomas Sorensen has been withdrawn from Denmark’s Euro 2012 squad after being substituted during the 3-1 friendly defeat to Brazil on Saturday with a back injury.

Sorensen, 35, will be replaced by Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, the Danish coach, Morten Olsen, said.

Olsen explained that uncertainty over the extent of the Stoke goalkeeper’s injury had led to his decision. Earlier, he had said Soresen was likely to miss Denmark’s first Euro 2012 group game against Netherlands on June 9.

“Thomas has suffered an injury to his back. It is unfortunately more likely that he will not recover in time to be available for matches in the finals than [that he will] get over it in time,” he said.

“It was a difficult decision to make ... Thomas a fantastic person and professional to have in the squad, and his experience is exactly what we need in a tournament against some of the strongest teams in the world.

“Thomas was obviously disappointed with my decision, but he understands our situation.”

The Danish FA said the decision had been made after discussions with the squad’s medical staff.

Sorensen said: “I am deeply unhappy about it. I had looked forward to my fifth finals with the national team. But I also understand that it is a big risk to go with an injured goalkeeper and therefore I respect Martin's decision, even if it hurts.”

Olsen said he was confident in Schmeichel as a replacement, adding: “He has worked seriously on his development as a goalkeeper, and we followed him closely during his season for Leicester.”