COPENHAGEN, June 5 (Reuters) - Few nations would swap places with Denmark who have to take on the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal at Euro 2012.
But having been crowned surprise European champions in 1992, the Danes know they are always capable of pulling off a shock.
At first glance, it looks likely that they will be propping up Group B after the preliminary games - but that would be to ignore the lessons of history and the Danes’ dynamic determination in major tournaments.
Their opponents would do well to take their challenge seriously.
“On paper all the other teams are better than us, but if they underestimate us they’ll be making a very big mistake,” striker Nicklas Bendtner told Reuters.
Nor will the Danish fans be happy just to take part in the tournament, according to Peter Schmeichel, who kept goal at the 1992 tournament.
“As soon as Denmark qualify, the fans will expect them to do well,” he said. “There is no less pressure on Denmark than for the bigger countries.”
The Danes open their campaign against the Netherlands on June 9 in a game that is unlikely to hold any surprises for either team.
Denmark’s 4-3-3 formation and dedication to quick, passing football mirrors the Dutch philosophy, and a sojourn in the Dutch league is almost ‘de rigueur’ for Danish players plying their trade outside their home country.
Next up will be Portugal, from whom Denmark took four points in qualifying to top their group. They also beat Portugal into second place in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, giving the Danes an important psychological advantage.
Ominously for Portugal, Bendtner has scored in all three of his competitive outings against them.
Germany may prove a tougher nut to crack, but should the Danes be able to secure some points in the first two matches, they may not need to go all-out in the final group game on June 17 to progress.
Coach Morten Olsen will hope to have the injury-prone Liverpool defender Daniel Agger fit in time for the tournament; if he is, he will be paired with Roma stopper Simon Kjaer, giving the Danes a physicality in central defence that few teams can match.
Starting out from a role on the wing, the mercurial Christian Eriksen will be the fulcrum of the attack. Only a few months old when Denmark won the 1992 tournament, he will be given freedom to roam the frontline, probing for openings.
Eriksen will be handed space by the tireless work of William Kvist, the unsung hero of the Danish central midfield.
An intelligent passer of the ball with a dangerous long throw, Kvist’s versatility may have slowed him down in the early part of his career, but not any more.
He was shunted around different positions in midfield and defence, but at 27 he has now made the central midfield berth his own for club and country.
Ultimately, it is the wily Olsen who will have the most influence on how far Denmark can go as he strikes a balance between the Danish football philosophy and tailoring his game plan to the opposition.
Before a recent friendly against Russia, Olsen told Reuters that the Danes would not change their system.
“We play the way we play,” he said, adding that players would be given individual instructions about certain opponents.
Shorn of record scorer Jon Dahl Tomasson, the Danes will also be looking to the likes of Bendtner to increase their strike rate in front of goal - in eight qualifiers, they only managed 15 goals, six less than runners-up Portugal.
But if Eriksen, and fellow winger Denis Rommedahl, can create some chances and Bendtner can find his finishing touch, there is no reason why Denmark cannot create an upset.
Whether they will be good enough to recreate the triumph of 1992 is another question. (Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett)