Denmark wave arrivederci to World Cup dreams
Nicklas Bendtner looked to have sealed the win for the spirited Danes with ten minutes left, but an Italian equaliser in stoppage time broke Danish hearts
Denmark’s hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed in Copenhagen tonight after a heart-breaking 2-2 draw with Italy in Group B.
Nicklas Bendtner looked to have sealed the win for the Danes with ten minutes left, but an Italian equaliser deep into stoppage time broke Danish hearts.
The draw means that the Danish Dynamite will miss the biggest scene in sports next summer, even if they thrash Malta in their last match on Tuesday.
Their record of two wins, four draws and two losses against the other top-five teams means that even if they finish second in the group - they currently trail Bulgaria on goal difference - they will miss out as the runner-up with the worst record.
The perfect setup
Backed by a raucous Parken stadium at full capacity, Denmark began with the knowledge only a win would keep their playoff-qualification hopes alive.
Armenia had done their part earlier in the evening by beating Bulgaria 2-1 in Yerevan, and Italy were resting several key players, including midfield general Andrea Pirlo, having already qualified last round.
Tireless winger Michael Krohn-Dehli flashed an early effort wide while Italy looked content to sit back and wait for an opportunity to counter.
Italy strikes early
It came after 28 minutes.
Seemingly out of nothing, Italy burst forward. Pablo Osvaldo controlled a long pass and moved past the charging Daniel Agger in one fluid motion before curling a placed shot around the hapless keeper.
Denmark’s already slim World Cup dreams looked heading for utter ruin.
The comeback kid
The Danes had a few small chances from set pieces with ten minutes to go in the first half, but Agger headed over from a decent position before Niki Zimling blasted over from distance.
But just as the referee was about to blow for halftime, Nicklas Bendtner rose above Federico Balzaretti and headed home Krohn-Dehli’s cross and the equaliser.
Parken exploded as the big Dane, who had looked rusty until then in his first game for Denmark in almost 12 months, sprinted up the pitch in celebration.
Moments later, as the Italians restarted, the ref signalled the end of the half.
The World Cup dream was back in business.
The Italians began the second half more aggressively and nearly went ahead again before Christian Eriksen smashed a stunning free kick against the post with Gianluigi Buffon stranded.
Stephan Andersen held a decent effort from Claudio Marchisio before Buffon tipped over a long-range crack from Zimling.
Andreas Bjelland nearly became the unlikely hero, but his shot smashed off the crossbar, bouncing off the back of an Italian defender before nestling in Buffon’s grateful grasp.
Game on, dream on
Time was running out and the Danes pushed forward looking for the goal that would extend that World Cup dream.
Once again connecting with a Krohn-Dehli cross, Bendtner headed powerfully downwards beating his old Juventus teammate at the near post.
Parken had reached boiling point. The crowd was simply deafening.
Danish hearts broken
But there were still ten minutes left. And it was Italy.
And sure enough, in the first minute of injury time the Italians struck as Alberto Aquilani prodded home a scrappy equalser just as the Danes thought they had secured a massive result.
The ref’s whistle blew moments later signalling the end of the match to extinguish the World Cup dream that the Danes had clung to for so long.
For Denmark to qualify now, Hans Christian Andersen needs to start scripting another fairytale.