CHAMPIONSHIP COUNTDOWN: No 3 Denmark

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The Independent Online
Holders may lack all-round quality

"We Can Do It" proclaims the title track of a CD on sale in Copenhagen's megastores, featuring one Peter Schmeichel. After the manner in which Denmark won Euro 92, having been dragged from their holidays to fill a place created by the expulsion of Yugoslavia, it might be unwise to doubt him.

The official line, articulated by the coach, Richard Moller-Nielsen, is that it will be harder to defend the trophy than it was to win it. Denmark are drawing on a population that is on a par with Scotland's and they have only three full-time clubs. For the rest of Europe, moreover, forewarned is forearmed.

On the other hand, the team is theoretically better than the one in Sweden, who had failed to qualify. En route to England, they lost just once, in Spain, before securing their place with a fine win in Belgium. Schmeichel is still there, having enjoyed a phenomenal season, while Brian Laudrup will be joined by big brother Michael, sole survivor of the "Danish Dynamite" squad of the 1980s.

Michael, 32 this month, is to play in Japan next season after leaving Real Madrid. On the evidence of his virtuoso display as playmaker against Scotland in April - when he evoked images of Cruyff and Maradona as well as scoring his 35th international and creating Brian's 11th - it is a preposterously premature step into football's equivalent of the elephants' graveyard.

Euro 96 will therefore be the swan-song for both the elder Laudrup and the coach with whom a petty feud robbed Denmark of their best player four years ago. Moller-Nielsen takes charge of Finland after the finals. The draw appears to have given the now-reconciled pair a chance to go out on a high, although the Danes, better than anyone, should understand the folly of underestimating Croatia, Portugal or Turkey.

As holders, Denmark have the advantage of playing all their first-phase fixtures at the same venue, Hillsborough. In terms of playing style, they have much of the fluidity of the Dutch. The sweeper, either Jes Hogh or Lars Olsen, will perform the progressive half of that role as well as being last line of defence. The wing-backs, likely to be Derby target Jacob Laursen and Italian-based Thomas Helveg, must threaten and thwart alike. Mikkel Beck is likely to be the most advanced forward, with both Laudrups striking from deep positions.

Schmeichel, the brothers and Kim Vilfort apart, Denmark are short of big-tournament experience. That worked in their favour last time, of course, and also means they are not depending on tired old legs. All-round quality might be a problem, however, and the 2-0 defeat in Germany a month before they beat the Scots by the same score may prove an accurate pointer to their prospects in the longer term.

Player to watch

The Scotland bench wondered how Beck made Denmark's side while Erik Bo Andersen, the Rangers striker, and Bent Christensen, a hit in Spain, were in the B squad. The 23-year-old, emerging from the German Second Division, answered by providing a powerful, pacy foil to the rapier thrusts of the Laudrups. Middlesbrough and Rangers will lead those monitoring "the new Preben Elkjaer".

PROBABLE SQUAD

Goalkeepers

Peter Schmeichel Manchester Utd

Mogens Krogh Brondby

Lars Hogh Odense

Defenders

Jens Hogh Fenerbahce

Lars Olsen Brondby

Torben Piechnik Aarhus

Marc Rieper West Ham United

Jens Risager Brondby

Jacob Laursen Silkeborg

Thomas Helveg Udinese

Midfielders

Brian Steen Nielsen Odense

Michael Schjonberg Odense

Allan Nielsen Brondby

Peter Nielsen Borussia Monchengladbach

Kim Vilfort Brondby

Claus Thomsen Ipswich Town

John Jensen Brondby

Forwards

Michael Laudrup Real Madrid

Brian Laudrup Rangers

Erik Bo Andersen Rangers

Mikkel Beck Fortuna Cologne

Peter Rasmussen Aalborg

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