Denmark makes honorable exit from Euro 2012
KOLOBRZEG, Poland (AP)
Denmark can go home with heads held high after putting up a good fight against some of Europe's biggest teams and spoiling Euro 2012 for one of them.
The 1-0 upset win over the Netherlands in their opening Group B match sparked hopes that Denmark once again could stun the football world, like it did 20 years ago when it became a surprise European champion.
Instead, narrow losses to Portugal and Germany in one of the toughest groups of the tournament eliminated a tightly knit squad whose team spirit made up for a lack of big stars.
''I am not disappointed in the team, absolutely not,'' Denmark coach Morten Olsen said after Sunday's 2-1 loss to Group B winner Germany. ''They have delivered a fantastic effort and in between they've also played some good football. We were up against the world's elite.''
Towering center forward Nicklas Bendter was the biggest name in Denmark's squad and its most important player in the tournament.
With two goals against Portugal and an assist against Germany, the Arsenal striker who was loaned to Sunderland last season should have improved his odds of finding a new club this summer.
Liverpool defender Daniel Agger put in three strong performances while his partner in the central defense, Simon Kjaer, was less assertive.
Second-string goalkeeper Stephan Andersen rose to the occasion as he replaced injured Thomas Sorensen but the biggest positive surprise was Michael Krohn-Dehli.
The 29-year-old winger from Danish club Brondby came to Euro 2012 in superb form, scoring the winner against the Dutch and equalizing against Germany to keep Denmark's hopes alive until Lars Bender's 80th minute goal made it 2-1.
''We lost to a better football team,'' Krohn-Dehli admitted.
Denmark's biggest letdown was 20-year-old playmaker Christian Eriksen, who had been expected to make his international breakthrough at Euro 2012.
He failed to make an impact in any of the three games, showing he needs more time to grow at Ajax before a potential move to one of Europe's biggest leagues.
''In qualifying he wasn't a decisive player either, people don't remember that,'' Olsen said. ''But he has grown since the World Cup to become a team player that we can count on.''
The coach, whose contract stretches through the 2014 World Cup, said Denmark's biggest problem is that none of its players belong to clubs that regularly compete in the final stages of the Champions League.
''That is a pace we need to get up to,'' Olsen said. ''And for Christian, even if the Dutch league is a better league than the Danish league for example, the pace and how closely the opponents stick to you, it's a different world.''