Gravesen accentuates the work ethic

He may not be the prettiest player at Euro 2004, or the most egocentric, but he is certainly one of the most effective and one of the most underestimated. Even as Denmark deflect dreams of making progress to a possible semi-final match with Greece, Thomas Gravesen works hard at playing down his role and his value. By the end of tonight's keenly anticipated quarter-final meeting with the Czech Republic here at the Estadio do Dragao, he hopes to be as successful as he is industrious.

He may not be the prettiest player at Euro 2004, or the most egocentric, but he is certainly one of the most effective and one of the most underestimated. Even as Denmark deflect dreams of making progress to a possible semi-final match with Greece, Thomas Gravesen works hard at playing down his role and his value. By the end of tonight's keenly anticipated quarter-final meeting with the Czech Republic here at the Estadio do Dragao, he hopes to be as successful as he is industrious.

On the pitch, during Denmark's unbeaten progress through Group C, the Everton midfielder was notable for his hard work, his rapid covering of colleagues, his tackling and his incessant prompting. As the Danes unfurled their attack, with two dashing wingers, he was often the man breaking up opposition attacks to set them free.

Jon-Dahl Tomasson may have caught the eye with his goals and Jesper Gronkjaer with his scoring return from his mother's funeral, but it is the unsung Gravesen who has held the team together after missing their opening game against Italy through suspension.

In midweek, however, when the Danes were held to a 2-2 draw by Scandinavian arch- rivals Sweden, Gravesen's passing was picked on by Morten Olsen for some mild criticism. His accuracy was under scrutiny, said the coach, while most observers were heaping praise on him for his great influence on a rainswept clash of impassioned opponents striving for a result that would silence Italian rumours of match-fixing.

Anyone who saw Grave-sen's commitment would have known there was no way he was interested in anything other than an outright victory. "This is not about me, or about anyone else individually, but it is about the Denmark team," he said afterwards. "This is a very strong team, with a great collective spirit and we all work well together. The coach has organised the team properly, we have a good system and we can attack and defend well as a unit. I am just a part of the whole thing."

Gravesen's modesty belied his contribution to a challenge from Denmark that has grown in confidence and conviction with each game. If the draw with Italy surprised some observers, it was the victory over Bulgaria, when Gronkjaer arrived as an early substitute and swept in the second goal in the final seconds, Tomasson having put the Danes ahead in the first half, that confirmed their promise. Playing with great width, variety and pace, well-balanced and appearing to be fit and strong in all positions, they performed well enough to send a shiver of apprehension through the Czech camp. Pavel Nedved, in particular, is wary of following the popular judgement that this Denmark are a convenient stepping stone for the Czechs on the way to to the last four.

After seeing them almost overwhelm Sweden, with Tomasson scoring twice more, the Juventus player said he believed the Danes were the best team in Group C and a greater danger than Sweden would have been. It was some compliment, but not one that fooled Tomasson. "I love Italian football," he said. "And I know the mentality behind the build-up to these games.

"Pavel is talking about us to make sure there is no complacency in their team after three wins - we hope they are overconfident!" Mind games aside, Denmark may miss one of their key players as Ebbe Sand, their target-man in attack, is struggling to overcome a very painful buttock strain, suffered against Sweden. Sand, a plucky fighter who overcame testicular cancer six years ago, has refused to write himself off, however, and may yet appear in the team. That is not going to happen though for Niclas Jensen, who is out for the rest of the tournament with a gashed foot.

Gravesen, however, remains calm and confident, if somewhat taciturn. He acknowledged that by winning three times after falling behind the Czechs had shown "great mental strength and a strong team morale" - just like Denmark's - but he also said that they had no special plans for coping with the threat from European Player of the Year Nedved. "He's a key player, of course, but we haven't prepared our game plan specifically with him in mind," he said. "We are preparing calmly and we are ready - and our expectations are high."

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