KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ask Jimmy Nielsen about Denmark’s chances in Euro 2012, and his answers tend to come punctuated with pauses, shrugs and sighs.
“If I look with the Denmark glasses ... no chance,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “No chance for Denmark.”
Sporting Kansas City’s goalkeeper and captain, a former Danish youth international, isn’t being unnecessarily gloomy. His country is in a loaded group, with two of four semifinalists from the 2010 World Cup.
The Danes open group play Saturday against the Netherlands, who finished runners-up to Spain two years ago. Next comes a June 11 meeting with Portugal, a round-of-16 participant in South Africa before being knocked out by the eventual champions. Denmark closes out Group B action on June 17 against third-place World Cup finishers Germany.
If there’s a bright spot in that schedule, it’s that Denmark are 3-1-1 in their last five meetings with the Portuguese.
“I think that’s the only chance to get a point,” Nielsen said – but then again, he added, anything can happen in the Euros.
“It’s very tough, but they have to go out there and play,” he said. “There’s no expectations. They have nothing to lose and everything to win. I think Denmark likes to be the underdogs, and they’re definitely the underdogs.”
If the Danes are to contend, Nielsen said, they’ll need a big performance from Stephan Andersen, the young 'keeper elevated to the top spot by an injury to starter Thomas Sorenson.
“The new No. 1, Stephan Andersen, he will have a lot of opportunities to show himself that he could go to a bigger team in Europe,” Nielsen said. “I’m pretty sure he will get the opportunities to sell himself. Playing Portugal, Germany and Holland, I’m sure he will see a lot of shots on goal. He could be the key player for Denmark.”
Longtime coach Morten Olsen has started to revamp the national side in a younger image after Denmark’s group-stage exit from the last World Cup.
“He took out a roster with old, tired, not hungry players, a little bit injured, but he still called them in,” Nielsen said. “He was not popular in Denmark for a long time because of that, because we had a lot of good talent knocking on the door and deserved the spot for the World Cup, but he didn’t take them.”
“He’s making the change now, and I think in the next World Cup or the next Euros, Denmark will have a very good team,” Nielsen said. “I think we have an OK team now, but this Euros – no chance.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.