Everything you need to know about the shebang in South Africa
There’s a refreshing lack of pretension about Denmark’s preparation for this World Cup. One of the last things the squad did on home soil was go back to the clubs where their careers had started to press the flesh and sign autographs for kids.
It’s the kind of gesture that would be impossible in England – what kind of reception would Frank Lampard get if he went back to West Ham? – and recalls a nobler, more Corinthian era in the game’s history. Daniel Agger combined his nostalgic return to the grassroots with his wedding, looking resplendent in white at his nuptial gig.
Unlike the po-faced English, the Danish have their own World Cup theme although this number is not as cheesily memorable as their 1986 ditty, Re-sepp-ten, recorded with a marvellously monikered band called Dodo and the Dodos and containing the much quoted line: “Mother Denmark loves all Danish boys who bang the ball”.
Even the rumour that Al Qaeda, still miffed about the cartoons of Mohammed, is planning some kind of retribution against the players or fans has been greeted with a fatalistic shrug. This utter lack of fuss has been the hallmark of Morten Olsen’s ten-year reign as national coach.
Olsen was, the Guardian's Rob Smyth suggests, the last of the red hot liberos: “He dealt in dragbacks, backheels, and stepovers at a time when few forwards had such tricks but his most lethal weapon was the surge at the heart of the defence”.
Olsen was not the most famous player in the Danish Dynamite side that, Smyth notes, “laughed in the face of the group of death”, thrashing Uruguay 6-1 before getting turned over 5-1 by Spain in the last 16 in 1986. But he was probably the most influential.
That side contained such legends as Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjaer, Allan Simonsen, Jesper Olsen and Soren Lerby. If you’re not old enough to remember that team and want to know what all the fuss is about, this clip of Laudrup’s divine goal against Uruguay should give you a clue.
Olsen was an influential part of Denmark's great side of 1986
As a coach, Olsen is best known as the victim of a boycott by the wantaway de Boer brothers which forced him out of Ajax in 1998. But he is fondly remembered by 1FC Koln fans for keeping them in the Bundesliga in the early 1990s even though he didn’t really have any decent players to work with.
Olsen has now steered Denmark to two World Cups and Euro 2004. This has been his best qualifying campaign ever. The Danes qualified with ease from a tricky group taking four points off Portugal and doing the double over Sweden. Striker Soren Larsen, who was loaned to Duisburg by Toulouse last season, scored five of his side’s 16 goals and has an astonishing record of 11 goals in 17 internationals although, it has to be said, he was most prolific against the less than robust defences of Albania and Malta.
The general consensus, even in Denmark, is that the squad is terminally average and a bit dull. This isn’t quite fair. No squad which contains the restless egotism of Nicklas Bendtner (who is now dating a baroness), the globetrotting tenacity of Christian Poulsen, the tattooed focus of Daniel Agger and the infuriating inconsistency of Dennis Rommedahl and Jesper Gronkjaer can be truly boring.
Olsen can also call on the indefatigable Jon Dahl Tomasson and the reliable Thomas Sorensen. He has worries about the fitness of Bendtner, Sorensen and defender Simon Kjaer but can cheer himself up by contemplating the precocious talent of Ajax’s Christian Eriksen, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder already being billed as the new Michael Laudrup. Dennis Bergkamp has already recommended the hotshot to Arsene Wenger.
How far can they go? As absurd as it might seem, they have a half-decent chance of outdoing the Danish Dynamite of 1986. A group containing the Dutch, Cameroon and Japan looks far from insurmountable. If they progress as runners-up, they could face Italy in the second round. The Azzurri normally improve as the tournament progresses but their stuttering form in qualifying suggests they are hardly invincible.
The World Cup could do with a second dose of Danish dynamite. The finals would be all the better for a team that is better than the sum of its parts, plays some nifty football and is less pretentious and self-important than the Dutch or English.
That’s why from 14 June onwards, I’m going to be an honorary roligan. I’m too folically challenged to style my hair like a character from Lord Of The Rings, I won’t be buying a Viking helmet and I’m not going to paint my face red and white, but I will be humming the song about Mother Denmark and banging the ball on the sofa.
More World Cup stuffPaul Simpson's Champions League blog
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Fascinating article Paul.
Would it be possible for you to contribute a 3 line haiku for our project and/or become a patron of it? If so, we would be honoured.
The Football Haiku World Cup:
As I remember, after "mother Denmark loves all/ danish boys who can bang" there was a long pause before the word ball "ball" (of course "all" rhymes with "bang" in Danish - "alle" and "knalde"). However apart from a song like that I think the team is missing one more ingredient from back then; none of our players are sporting dodgy moustaches any more. It is sure to end in tears...
When you’ve literally come back from the dead, it puts football in perspective. So FC Copenhagen coach
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