Danish football (World Cup 2018)

Dansk Boldspil-Union logo.svg

Danish football

Until the 1970s Danish football remained amateur. The national team did not allow any professional players, and if you wanted to go pro, then you had to leave Denmark. This meant Denmark for a time had a fairly strong Olympic team, as that tournament remain amateur into the 1980s. 3 silver medals and 1 bronze from 1908 to 1960. Denmark had one of the best teams in World in 1912-1920, when the international game was limited as the First World War was on.

The 1970s were transition years, but after that the team emerged on the international stage out of nowhere. A foreign coach and most of the players playing all over Europe meant the Danish game in some ways was ahead of other countries. This because at this time very few played outside their national league. Sepp Piontek was the German chosen to lead Denmark throughout the 1980s. He shaped the game going forward, but also developed the Danish style from next to nothing.

The international stage was hit in Euro 1984. Denmark lost only to the two finalist: France in the group stage, and infamously against Spain in the semi-final on penalties. 1986 was Denmark’s first World Cup, where yet again Denmark impressed, and yet again they where knocked out by Spain. This time in the round of 16. 5-1.

The international stage was finally conquered completely in 1992. Yugoslavia had been disqualified in relation to their ongoing Civil War (more about its effect on Serbia and Croatia in the linked articles). Denmark (who finished second in the qualification group) were suddenly in an unexpected European Championship. New coach, disagreement with the Laudrup brothers (the main stars of the team) over tactics and a lot of chaos let to there being little to no expectations, but somehow Denmark went to Sweden and won the whole tournament.

Danish football was on the up, but Denmark remained a small nation. The greatest European achievement for a Danish club is a UEFA Cup semi-final for Brøndby IF in 1991. The greatest single match achievement is Odense BK in 1994 away at Bernabeo defeating Real Madrid 2-0. To knock out the most winning team in European club football from the UEFA Cup.

These aspects all influenced Danish football, but the modern game was mostly shaped by Morten Olsen. Hired in 2000, he was the captain of the 1980s national team, he had played his club football in Belgium and Germany, and coached in the Dutch style, which he took with him from his last coaching job at Ajax Amsterdam. This ment Denmark played 4-3-3 (or a variation of 4-2-3-1). Denmark played attacking football and rarely if ever would Morten Olsen break from his core philosophy (at times to the frustration of Danish football fans). The philosophy was also introduced into the national youth teams. Olsen would remain the national coach for 15 years, and today his football simply is Danish football. Many talented Danish players also went to Ajax to play, and this further ingrained the Ajax style as the Danish style.

Now the Danish attack is lead by one of those players, who went to Ajax, Christian Eriksen. He has scored 16 goals and 6 assists in his last 19 national team matches. After Eriksen started scoring for Denmark regularly, soon Denmark stopped losing, and the national team is unbeaten since October 2016.

In the Sweden article we presented Nordic football. The team’s unity is also the most important aspect of Danish football, but the tactic is different. Danish players are football culturally nearly identical to Swedes, but Denmark just has a very different tactical approach based on the early international exposure.

Where do the Danes play?

Danes still play all over Europe. Just as they did in the 1980s, this trend has continued up until this day. However, 3 play in Denmark. 2 in FC Copenhagen, who have dominate the Danish football league in recent decades. Their Copenhagen rivals Brøndby IF (who dominated the league before FC) also has 1 member of the national team.

The rest play in England 7, Spain 3, Germany 3, Netherlands 3 (2 at Ajax), Italy 2, and France 2. That might be the big6 in European club football, but 2 play in the second level of English club football, and most play in mid-tier clubs. But they play. It used to be a problem that Danish football national team starters would often be on the bench for their club, which hurt their form for their national team.

Political influence and national narrative

Winning Euro 1992 was not just the greatest moment in Danish football history, but also a profound cultural moment for Denmark. The 1992 was against the recently reunited Germany. Denmark used to be European medium power and in 1864 Prussia on its path to uniting Germany ended Denmark’s international relevance. During the Second World War Denmark did almost nothing to resist the German invasion, and therefore could do little to mend the wound of humiliation. So when Germany was out to celebrate their unification, Denmark was there to finally get revenge. Not in any evil way, but it was needed to mend the wound 1864-1945 had caused in the Danish national narrative (read more about this here).

While Denmark was gaining in international confidence, then the Danish people in 1992 rejected the Maastricht treaty in a referendum (which was required by the Danish constitution). This lead the staunch EU support (he is legendary in Denmark for his EU socks) and Danish foreign minister Uffe Ellemann Jensen to uttering “if you can’t join them, beat them” (a reverse of the English proverb “if you can’t beat them, join them”).

As with the other Scandinavian countries, politics has had little influence on the game. Danish isolationism following 1864 might have been a factor in staying amateur, but that would be stretching interpretation further than relevant. The Federation simply lacked cash and had an old fashioned view of the sport.

Group and expectations

Denmark beat Peru 1-0 in the first group game. This was likely to have been the final for who finishes second after France. However, Australia put in a good run against France. Ever if the game did finish 2-1 to France.

Denmark’s second group game is against Australia. If Australia lose, then they are out. Now if it is a draw then Australia has a chance to go through (France have to win all their 3 games, and Australia have to win over Peru – then Australia can be through, if they beat Denmark on goal difference). However, if Denmark win, then they are likely through. The only scenario, where that does not happen is France lose to Peru, and then beat Denmark in the last round, while Peru also win… Then you have 3 teams with 6 points.

Australia play a game similar to the Danish, but are just a worse team technically. This should be a win for Denmark, but likely not a major win. 1-0 or 2-1 seem reasonable after how Australia fared against France. But if Australia get ahead, then they physical strength might well equal Danish finesse. The Danes are favourites, but nothing is certain.

Last game is against France. Hopefully (for the European perspective) both teams have 6 points, and this is just the group final. Otherwise it is very likely one team is already through, and the other just needs a single point. Even if both France and Denmark draw in the second group game, then they just need to draw in their last game for both to be through. So this game might very likely all depend on, who is through, and who is not. A team through to the round of 16 would consider letting their reserves play, and let the usual starters get a break. But under normal circumstance, France would be the favourite.

On from the group. After beating Peru this should reasonable be possible. Denmark in a potential ro16 would face teams from group D, which are far from unbeatable. No games are going to be easy, but with Argentina drawing against Iceland, then nothing is certain. If Denmark can build some momentum, then this is the strongest Danish team in 20 years (when they reached the World Cup quarterfinal losing only to the two later finalists, and in said quarterfinal Brazil struggled to get a 3-2 win) if not more. As with most European teams, then if they get out of the group and get going, then they can go far.


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