Which memories spring to mind when we recall the European Championship?
There’s the glory: Preben Elkjær scoring the winner against Belgium in 1984; John ‘Faxe’ Jensen scoring one of the few goals of his career against Germany in the 1992 final, and Peter Schmeichel tipping away a Jürgen Klinsmann strike late in the same game; and Jon Dahl Tomasson’s banana-kick sailing into the Swedish net in 2004, and how that 2-2 draw sent out the spitting Italians.
But let’s not forget the moments we’ve suppressed: Elkjær blasting a penalty over the bar against Spain in the 1984 semi-final, his buttocks showing through a gaping hole in his shorts; losing all three games in 1988 and 2000; and being thrashed 0-3 by Milan Baros and the Czech Republic in the 2004 quarter-finals.
Which memories will be fashioned in 2012? It will all start on Saturday when Denmark meets the Netherlands at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, Ukraine, followed by games against Portugal and Germany (see right).
Few are expecting Denmark to advance, least not the bookmakers. They are rank outsiders to win the whole tournament (100/1, Ladbroke’s) and the group (16/1, Bet 365) and available at 9/2 with one English bookmaker just to make the quarter-finals.
Should they succeed, they will face one of the top two of Group A: Russia, Poland, Greece or the Czech Republic – a hard group to call. Hosts Poland and Russia are the most likely qualifiers, but whoever they meet, they won’t be tougher opponents than any of their fellow group members.
Their likely semi-final opponents would then be Spain, France, Italy or England. It would, of course, be a fairytale if they made it that far. But enough about England.
And then finally, several miracles later perhaps, the final on July 1. It would be 1992 all over again and then some.
Denmark VS the Netherlands
Sat June 9, 18:00
Statistically, Denmark have always had a difficult time against the flying Dutchmen, and haven’t beaten them since 1967, although they did oust them in the 1992 semi-final in a penalty shootout. But it’s a high octane Dutch attack that will greet the Danes on Saturday evening, featuring players like Robin Van Persie, Klass Jan Huntelar, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart. The key to getting points from this game hinges on a solid defensive effort and hitting the Dutch on the counter-attack. If the Netherlands has an Achilles heel, it is their defence.
Central defence/ Simon Kjaer vs Van Persie/Huntelaar: The Danish central defence must be at its absolute best. Simon Kjaer, especially, can be uneasy and panicky when in possession and mistakes will be punished immediately by the Dutch.
Danish backs vs Dutch wings: The Dutch attack relies on their speedy wings and the Danish backs, Simon Poulsen and Lars Jacobsen, must win their individual battles for the Danes to have a chance. If the Danes can frustrate the Dutch wingers, an otherwise deadly Dutch attack could stagnate in the Ukrainian sun.
Niklas Bendtner vs Dutch defence: Bendtner must be on form if Denmark is to establish any kind of attacking game. The lanky striker must be able to hold onto the ball for enough time to allow the rest of the team to push up in support.
Denmark VS Portugal
Wed June 13, 18:00
The Danes have only lost to Portugal once in the last five meetings and, when the pressure was on, beat them 2-1 at home to qualify. However, it will take another monster Danish effort to get points here, particularly against two of the most gifted players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Still, Portugal might have a good goalkeeper but their defence is suspect, and lack an obvious choice to lead the line. Restrain Ronaldo and Nani and Denmark could get a result.
Danish defence vs Ronaldo/Nani: The 2-1 win in October was a template on how to beat the Portuguese – it was a massive defensive effort. And the defensive midfielders must make sure the silky Ronaldo and Nani don’t slip though the middle.
Danish wingers vs Portuguese backs: The Portuguese defence has been a liability of late, and Morten Olsen must encourage his two wingers, Dennis Rommedahl and Michael Krohn-Dehli , to put pressure on the flanks to open up the game for playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Christian Eriksen vs Portugal: He’s carved up Portugal once already, but to do it in a major tournament will be a different story all together, especially since Portugal will be ready this time. Or will they?
Denmark VS Germany
Sun June 17, 20:45
Denmark haven’t lost in three games to Germany, and have beaten them twice in recent major tournaments: 2-0 in the 1992 final and by the same score-line in the 1986 World Cup. But Germany look strong this year, having going undefeated through qualification, scoring 34 times while only conceding seven. The Danes will have to be extremely disciplined to get a result.
William Kvist/Niki Zimling vs Mesut Özil: If the Danes want to shut down the German offensive machine, they must take out the main creative clog, Özil. The German playmaker is devastating when given the freedom to blossom, but he doesn’t respond well to sturdy, tight marking.
Danish backs/wings vs Philipp Lahm: The Germany captain is one of the best wing backs in the game. With ceaseless energy, he runs up and down the wings, providing pint-point crosses at one end while relentlessly hounding opposition wingers at the other. The key to keeping him quiet is to force him to stay in defense by playing it wide.
Stephan Andersen vs German attack: The Germans are going to have their chances, no doubt, so stand-in keeper Stephan Andersen must be on top of his game to thwart them. He needs to communicate well with his defense, be more confident at set-pieces, and handle well, particularly with toe poke specialist Mario Gomez waiting to pounce.