COPENHAGEN, June 5 (Reuters) - Denmark’s pretty passing patterns will count for nothing if they cannot turn possession into goals and it is striker Nicklas Bendtner who will bear the brunt of expectations.
Euro 2012 comes at a critical time in the forward’s career - his Arsenal contract is due to end in the summer, he will soon be a free agent and a good performance at the finals will go a long way towards deciding his future.
Brought to England as a teenager by Arsene Wenger, he spent a season on loan at Birmingham City before returning to Arsenal where, despite his obvious talent, he has never held down a permanent place in the French coach’s plans.
Now 24, the striker, who spent this season on loan at Sunderland, has been also occupying headline writers of both the front and back pages for several years, as his brash self-confidence and wild off-field behaviour sometimes eclipsed his achievements on the pitch.
A public apology, following an arrest for drunken behaviour, was accompanied by a promise to concentrate “only on football” in what many observers took to be a sign of a new-found maturity.
Following the retirement of Denmark’s joint record goal-scorer Jon Dahl Tomasson, Bendtner is expected to spearhead the Danish attack against Group B rivals the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany.
Big, powerful and technically competent, Bendtner is a handful for any defence as a target man, but he is prone to taking wild shots when team mates are better-placed.
At a tournament in which chances will be at a premium, he will have to rein in his more individualistic instincts, especially given his own unspectacular goal-scoring record, if Denmark are to prosper.
Never prolific at club level, he netted three times in five qualifiers and averages slightly more than a goal every four games for the national team.
He has scored in all three of his competitive outings against group rivals Portugal. His goal against them in October, 2011 ensured Denmark’s qualification for Euro 2012.
Last year, he turned down a chance to appear for his country’s under-21 side when, as hosts, Denmark struggled to score at the 2011 finals.
But his ability to hold the ball up, and bring others into play, will give coach Morten Olsen little option but to start him up front.
In an interview with Reuters in February, Bendtner said he would consider following former Arsenal team-mate Andrei Arshavin to Russia, as he considers his future. He was linked with a number of clubs before his loan move to Sunderland.
Having netted against Cameroon at the 2010 World Cup finals, Euro 2012 will offer Bendtner a chance to add further tournament goals to his CV in his first appearance at a European finals.
As always, he was bullish about his country’s chances.
He said: “I always go into everything with the same attitude - to win. It doesn’t matter what it is. First we need to try to concentrate on getting out of the group. After that, anything can happen.” (Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett)