Euro 2012: Denmark’s new ‘Laudrup’ is key to Euros

He was only a few months old when Denmark won the 1992 European

Championship, one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s

history.

Now, Christian Eriksen is at the center of Denmark’s hopes of

springing another surprise at Euro 2012.

The 20-year-old Ajax midfielder adds pace and creativity to an

otherwise unimposing Danish team that will be a clear underdog

against Group B rivals Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Though he has only scored twice in 21 international matches,

Eriksen was instrumental in helping Denmark win its qualifying

group for Euro 2012.

The quick-footed playmaker has also enjoyed success with his

club: Eriksen scored seven goals as Ajax won the Dutch title for

the second consecutive season.

”I am quite satisfied with the way the season has developed for

me,” Eriksen said. ”When I sum things up, I think this has been

my best season.”

Eriksen’s contract with Ajax runs until 2014 and he claims he is

in no hurry to move on, despite rumors of interest from bigger

clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona.

”I don’t see the need for a move at the moment. I feel very

much at home here (in Ajax) and there is plenty I can still

learn,” he said.

In Denmark, Eriksen’s dribbling skills and eye for the game have

earned him comparisons with Michael Laudrup, considered the

country’s best player ever.

Eriksen was a substitute in Denmark coach Morten Olsen’s squad

in the 2010 World Cup, where he was the youngest player in the

tournament. But he gained a place in the starting lineup during

Euro 2012 qualifying with emphatic performances against Iceland,

Norway and Portugal.

”If you have seen him playing in Europe and Ajax, he has

matured as a football player and human being,” Olsen told The

Associated Press.

But Olsen didn’t want to put too much pressure on Denmark’s

rising star.

”Individually, if he has a good day he can make a difference.

But you know, his shoulders are only that wide,” Olsen said. ”In

two, three years it will be easier for him. We can’t say our

success depends on whether he plays good or bad.”

Eriksen has a key role in Denmark’s attack along with forward

Nicklas Bendtner and veteran winger Dennis Rommedahl. Thinly

framed, he is not as robust in defense.

That could cause some headache for Olsen, who cannot expect

Denmark to dominate possession against teams that will surely go on

the attack against what on paper is the weakest team in the

group.

Denmark’s first opponent is the Netherlands, one of the

tournament favorites. The teams last met at the World Cup in 2010,

when the Dutch cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win.

Against Portugal, Denmark defenders Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer

will be put to the test yet again by Cristiano Ronaldo.

In qualifying, they struggled to contain the Real Madrid striker

in a 3-1 loss in Porto, but nearly managed to neutralize him in

Denmark’s 2-1 win in Copenhagen. Ronaldo was invisible for most of

that match, but pulled one back for Portugal with a masterful free

kick in injury time.

It is likely that Denmark’s fate will be decided in the third

group match against Germany in Lviv, Ukraine. The Germans will be

huge favorites in that match, but would do well to remember that

Danish habit of overachieving when one least expects it.

The last competitive match between the two sides was the 1992

European Championship final. Denmark, which entered that tournament

as a late replacement for war-torn Yugoslavia, won 2-0.

”If you are talking about favorites for the European

Championship, I think three of those teams are in this group. And

we are surely not one of them,” Olsen told the AP. ”Nevertheless,

football is 90 minutes. … And if you are in good form on the day,

and you have luck, everything is possible.”

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Ritter reported from Stockholm.