5 Reasons Denmark Is a Dark Horse for Knockout Stage of Euro 2012

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2012

5 Reasons Denmark Is a Dark Horse for Knockout Stage of Euro 2012

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    Despite being put in a group with three teams all capable of winning the 2012 Euros, Denmark has to be considered a dark horse to advance through Group B.

    The Danes finished at the top of their qualification group, and in return they received dates with the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal in the group stage.

    Almost immediately as the groups were drawn, Group B was labeled the "Group of Death," and for good reason. According to FIFA and as of June 4, Germany rank second, the Netherlands fourth, Portugal fifth and bringing up the rear is Denmark at a whopping 10th.

    And then, almost equally as quickly as the group earned its moniker, Denmark was dismissed as contenders to make it through to the knockout stage. It isn't exactly an indictment on the quality of their national team, but rather an indication of how strong the group is.

    However, despite the tall task ahead of them, the Danes should be at the very least discussed as one of the top two finishers in Group B.

    Here are five reasons why.

Morten Olsen

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    Having taken over the job as Denmark national team coach in 2000, Morten Olsen is the longest-serving manager at this year's Euros.

    For the most part, if a national team manager sticks around for more than a couple tournament cycles, things tend to get a little stale. Bruce Arena with the United States and Marcello Lippi of Italy are two recent examples.

    However, Olsen seems to have become more emboldened with the Danish team and its supporters the longer his tenure runs.

    There are few if any teams in this year's Euro whose players share the kind of relationship that the Danish squad have with Olsen.

    He had planned to leave the national team following the 2010 World Cup, but he has decided to stick around. It's almost a certainty that this is his last tournament, as Olsen has been pushing for Michael Laudrup to be his successor.

    It sounds cliche and it's not as if any other team would play at a different level, but Denmark will be giving everything that they have in order to send Olsen out on a high note.

    The motivation this provides could be the little bit extra the Danes need to get past the likes of Germany and the Netherlands.

Nicklas Bendtner

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    You'll probably infuriate most Arsenal supporters by mentioning the name Nicklas Bendtner, but few could argue that he doesn't have the tools to be a very good striker.

    Bendtner is certainly a man confident in his own abilities, to say the least.

    And it's that confidence, or some might say delusion, that will best serve Bendtner and Denmark as a whole.

    If Bendtner doesn't perform well, then the Danes will have a hard time finding goals in other places.

    He is not going to shy away from the spotlight that the Euros bring. If anything, the increased attention will spur Bendtner on to deliver on the promise that he has shown in the past few years.

    The big Dane is coming off a solid season on loan for Sunderland, in which he scored eight goals and notched five assists in 28 league matches.

    The striker has some real personal motivation. With a good performance in this tournament, Bendtner could secure that big move away from Arsenal that he has been yearning for for so long.

    Despite their attacking talent, Germany and the Netherlands both have some questions at the back. They're not completely deficient by any stretch of the imagination, but a tall striker like Bendtner could give them real problems.

Revenge from World Cup 2010

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    Denmark had a poor showing at the 2010 World Cup. They finished third in Group E, which included Japan, Cameroon and the Netherlands.

    As if the motivation of erasing any memory of that World Cup isn't strong enough, fast-forward two years, and Denmark meets the Dutch again in the group stage of an international competition.

    When the two met at the World Cup, the Netherlands defeated Denmark, 2-0. The scoreline is a bit deceiving as the Dutch had to really fight to come away with the three points.

    It's a result Denmark will be looking to to overturn this time around.

    If anything, the Netherlands might be a slight bit worse than they were two years ago as both Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are both failing to regain the form of 2010. Also, the Dutch are without Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who was a leader at the back they have yet to replace.

Facing Portugal During Qualification

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    It seems a cruel fate that Denmark got drawn in the same group with Portugal, whom they defeated once and finished ahead of in qualification.

    Granted, Portugal has been playing much better under Paulo Bento, but Denmark still managed to beat them in the last game of qualification. A win would have put Portugal at the top of the group, thus avoiding the playoff.

    The smart money would say that it would be incredibly difficult for Denmark to beat Portugal twice in the same Euro 2012 cycle.

    However, it could be a benefit for the Danish squad. Any intimidation factor that would come with facing Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese squad will be nonexistent.

They're Completely Overlooked

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    While everyone focuses on Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands, Denmark can really sneak in the back door.

    It wouldn't be the first time that Denmark has surprised many at the Euros. It's now 20 years since their championship triumph at the 1992 Euros, a competition the Danes didn't know they were actually in until 10 days before it started.

    On paper, Denmark doesn't have the quality of the other three countries in Group B. Normally, a team in the Danes' position would be a walkover for the likes of the Germans, Dutch and Portuguese.

    However, as their No. 10 would indicate, Denmark are no pushovers.

    While the top three teams in the group all try and figure out how they will beat one another, they might lose focus on Denmark just that little bit. That's not something that any opposing team can afford to do.

    In addition to being the perceived whipping boys, Denmark can play without any pressure whatsoever. There's very little chance that the team doesn't go home with their heads held high.

    Sometimes the weight of expectation can suffocate even the greatest sides. This is something that Denmark doesn't have to bother themselves with.