A good Danish side that deserve more attention

June 6, 2010

Denmark, 4-2-3-1

There hasn’t been much focus upon Denmark in the build-up to the World Cup, but many of those who watched this team in qualification suggest that this is the strongest Danish team since they won the European Championships in 1992.

The lack of attention is strange when you consider they won probably the toughest group in the UEFA qualifying section, finishing ahead of both Portugal and Sweden. Denmark have never failed to get past the group stage on the three occasions they’ve qualified for the tournament, and whilst their opening game against the Netherlands is a tricky start, they certainly have the ability to progress.

A good defence

Few sides can count on a central defensive partnership as strong as Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, although they only started two qualification games together. Not only are they good defenders, both are composed on the ball. It’s common to see either pick up the ball, move forward 15 yards and if there is not a key pass available, knock it to the other, and the process starts again. They build from the back, but do so slowly and methodically.

The full-back places are still up for grabs, based upon the sides Morten Olsen has fielded in his three pre-World Cup friendlies. Left-back Simon Poulsen can expect to start – he is a former winger who was moved back into defence by Louis van Gaal at AZ, and retains his attacking tendencies. On the opposite side will probably be Lars Jacobsen, who offers a solid, positionally-aware presence – although he faces competition from William Kvist, a more dynamic player who can also operate in midfield. The full-backs play relatively narrow when not in possession, looking to cover for the two centre-backs, both of whom like to move forward and attack the ball.

Injury worries further forward

Denmark, 4-3-3

Ahead of that, Denmark are currently suffering from injury problems, and the side is slightly difficult to predict for that reason. Nicklas Bentder will lead the line if fit, but he has been struggling with a groin problem and has been forced to train alone, missing all Denmark’s friendlies. His replacement depends upon Denmark’s formation – if they play 4-3-3 the natural replacement is Jon Dahl Tomasson, but if Morten Olsen opts for a 4-2-3-1 shape, Tomasson is more suited to the central role in the attacking trio, and top goalscorer in qualifying Soren Larsen will play upfront.

Whichever system Olsen goes for, two out-and-out wingers will be used, with the Danes possessing four wingers capable of playing on either side – Wolfsburg’s Thomas Kahlenberg, another injury doubt, and three veterans who all made their debut for the national side a decade or more ago; Martin Jorgensen, Dennis Rommedahl and Jesper Gronkjaer. All have slowed, and Rommedahl and Gronkjaer remain infuritating with their end product.

Rommedahl on the right and Kahlenberg on the left looks likely if everyone is available; Gronkjaer may be an impact sub, whilst Jorgensen can play almost anywhere aside from centre-forward and centre-back, so could feature in a variety of roles.

The central midfield positions also depend on the formation. We may see two Poulsens in the midfield (and three in the team) – Christian is a limited defensive midfielder at club level, but has a more all-round role for the national side, where he dovetails well with his namesake Jakob, who is naturally a more attacking player. In a three, they might be joined by Daniel Jensen, though he often features as a substitute.

The joker in the pack may be Christian Eriksen – the youngest player in the tournament at 18, in an ageing squad. The diminutive playmaker has started just 15 league games in his career (all for Ajax) but has already attracted the attention of various major European clubs. Olsen is generally a conservative manager in terms of team selection, and seeing Eriksen from the start in group games would be a big surprise, but cameo substitute appearances will be expected – and the fact that he could (in theory) fit into either the 4-3-3 or the 4-2-3-1 may help his cause.


The Danes are a difficult side to categorize – they are defensive but not unattractive, and yet they don’t really play on the counter-attack. They like to retain the ball, but are happy knocking it across the backline without feeling pressured to find a forward pass – this is probably as a result of their centre-backs’ ability to hit accurate long passes, especially to the wingers.

As they’ve done for the past decade, Denmark’s play depends upon getting the ball to the wide players, but with them declining in terms of pace and overall ability, the impact of Eriksen in a more central position might be crucial. Attacking their full-backs will be the way to get at them.

They should progress, and would then face a team from the weakest group in the tournament (Group F), so Denmark could have a bigger impact than people are expecting.

Both centre-backs like to come towards the ball, often leaving gaps in behind. Here, Simon Kjaer (in blue) comes a long way up the pitch to deal with his man, leaving his fellow centre-back Daniel Agger (in red) on his own in the centre. The right-back (to the left, in blue) has to cover quickly.

A similar effect can be observed here - Kjaer comes high up the pitch, the full-backs have to tuck in.

Denmark defend well from the front, but there is little pressing high up the pitch. Instead, the forwards/wingers (in yellow) drop back to the halfway line close to the midfielders (in blue) to create a six-man barrier hard to play through.

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