Twenty years ago - that's five tournaments, if you want to make that time span feel even shorter - Denmark were named European Champions after defeating Germany 2-0 in the final. It was a stunning accomplishment for an unfancied group of players. Can they replicate that feat this summer? Well, no, probably not. They're not very good, and they're in a group that features both the Netherlands and Germany. You wouldn't bet on them advancing to the quarterfinals, let alone winning the whole thing.
Then again, overcoming silly odds is exactly what this team did in 1992. The eventual winners weren't even supposed to be in the tournament, having finished second in their qualifying group, but the breakup of Yugoslavia* allowed them to sneak into the competition anyway. A 78th minute goal by Lars Elstrup in their final group stage game saw them qualify for the semifinals at the expense of France (previously they had drawn 0-0 with England and lost to hosts Sweden), and there they met defending champions Holland.
*How good would a Yugoslavia national team be right now? It's a shame we don't get to see it.
They were supposed to lose that game. It was not supposed to be close, either. Only they didn't - it took an 86th minute equaliser from Frank Rikjaard in order to even take the match to extra time, and then a Marco van Basten miss during the penalty shootout ensured that the Danes reached their first and only major final. Their opponents? Germany, two years removed from their World Cup triumph and featuring six players who'd started against Argentina in 1990. Denmark were supposed to lose that game too.
They won 2-0.
In other words, history is telling us that writing this team off entirely might not be the wisest idea, especially when it looks like they're facing insurmountable-looking odds against oh, say, Holland and Germany. Sure, Denmark had some scintillating talents on that squad, with the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup, but the current incarnation has Christian Erikson and... uh. Kasper Schmeichel?
One thing's for sure - they don't have Thomas Sorenson. The veteran goalkeeper suffered a back injury during Denmark's friendly against Brazil and head coach Morten Olson is unwilling to take him to the tournament as a first choice player. Manchester United's Anders Lindegaard, who played in two of the qualifying matches, is expected to be the starter.
Elsewhere not much should change from Denmark's standard Group H lineup. They play in a 4-2-3-1 with Ajax starlet Eriksen at the centre of everything, and the only real question is whether completely useless former Liverpool midfielder Christian Poulson will reclaim his place in the squad over Niki Zimling. The lineup for their first match, against the Netherlands, should look quite a lot like this:
Projected Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1)
GK Anders Lindegaard LB Simon Poulson CB Simon Kjaer CB Daniel Agger RB Lars Jacobsen CM William Kvist CM Niki Zimling LW Michael Krohn-Delhi CAM Christian Eriksen RW Dennis Rommedahl CF Nicklas Bendtner.
It's a reasonably strong group of players and the step down from an aging Sorenson to Lindegaard isn't too high, but this isn't a team that's going to set the world on fire. Kvist and Zimling will play deep, relying on Eriksen to push forward and create for the three forward players. The wingers will be tracking back perhaps more than they like in order to maintain two banks of four on defence. Meanwhile, Nicklas Bendtner will be doing Nicklas Bendtner things up front.
Apart from the obvious player to watch in Eriksen, you should be keeping an eye out on both wingers. Although they'll be asked to assume fairly serious defensive roles, pushing them into the attack is key in order for the team to have more than one out-ball. If Denmark can play on the counter and use Eriksen to switch the play with diagonals to either Krohn-Delhi or Rommedahl, Bendtner's going to have far more chances to score. If they can't bring the wingers forward, it's difficult to see where the goals will come from.
Ultimately, this group should simply prove too strong for the Danes. They may have beaten Portugal to the top spot in qualifying, but it's difficult to look at the two squads and say that Denmark are the better side. But even if they do overcome Portugal, then there's Germany and the Netherlands to worry about, two of the three favourites to win the competition. In a different group, I might give Denmark a reasonable chance of advancing. In this one? Well, they're presented with insurmountable-seeming odds against Holland and Germany. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Player To Watch
Christian Eriksen. This one's a no-brainer. The 20-year-old has it all. Nineteen assists and seven goals in a season as the main creative force behind Eredivisie champions Ajax was no fluke - just ask England after they were destroyed by the youngster at Wembley last year. Eriksen is a fantastic player, and Denmark's campaign hinges on him. If he can play at his very best... well, they're still not likely to get out of the group. But it suddenly wouldn't become a totally insane proposition.
Third place, Group B. Denmark will keep things tight against both of the huge fish in the group but get nothing from those two fixtures, but their defensive organisation will overcome an erratic Portugal side on Matchday 2 to earn them a victory that should keep them in the hunt until the final group game.