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.

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