danes full of surprise

COPENHAGEN - By qualifying to the 2010 World Cup finals, Denmark surprised some of their own fans.

Despite topping the Group F table in March - ahead of Portugal and archrivals Sweden - just four in 10 Danes polled at the time believed Denmark would make it to the finals.

But veteran coach Morten Olsen succeeded in getting the most out of his squad and proved his doubters wrong, securing an automatic qualifying berth.

Olsen has been at the helm of Denmark since 2000 and knows his players, and they in turn are familiar with the team's tactics.

And after qualifying, Demark should - despite hailing from a small football nation - set its sights high, Olsen told the BT daily recently.

The last time Denmark appeared at the World Cup finals was 2002.

The country's first appearance at the World Cup finals was 1986 in Mexico when Denmark earned the nickname "Danish dynamite".

Olsen and pundits were generally pleased with the draw for the 2010 World Cup but bookmakers were Saturday divided over Denmark's chances of advancing.

Denmark was Friday drawn with the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon in Group E.

The Netherlands were ranked as group favourites after their flawless qualification.

Denmark coach Olsen, a former coach for Ajax Amsterdam, noted that like Denmark, the Dutch side had struggled with injuries and some players had not played many games, broadcaster DR reported.

"At least there is a chance we can advance," Olsen said.

Denmark midfielder Daniel Jensen, who plays for German Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, said: "I think we have a good chance, a World Cup is a lot about being on form."

Dennis Rommedahl, who plays for Ajax, said that even though the group was "not ideal, it was not the toughest."

Denmark captain Jon Dahl Tomasson was however less upbeat, saying it was a "tough group."

"It is a tough group, and there is no easy team like New Zealand. Cameroon is one of the best sides in Africa, while Japan is known as a team that works hard for each other."

The team - where Olsen himself was on the line-up - won fame for its attacking style before fizzling out of the tournament suffering a 6-1 drubbing by Spain.

The quarterfinal spot in the 1998 World Cup finals is the team's best achievement in the worlds while Denmark's top football merit is the 1992 European championship title with a 2-0 upset against reigning world champions Germany.

Key players:

l Feyenoord forward Jon Dahl Tomasson remains a force but is not as speedy as during the height of his career, but creates room for other players with his ball handling.

l Rommedahl, on loan to Dutch side NEC Nijmegen from Ajax Amsterdam.

Like Tomasson he was forced to bow out from the two season-ending friendlies against South Korea and the US, but is a safe bet in the World Cup squad.

l During the qualification campaign Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen made some crucial saves and is also favoured to start between the posts.

The Coach:

l Morten Olsen, 60, has coached Denmark since 2000. A central defender, he played 102 internationals for Denmark from 1970 to 1989, and the following year launched his coaching career with Danish side Brondby.

Before coaching Denmark he also coached German side FC Cologne and Ajax Amsterdam. Players on the national team and coaches in Denmark's premier league have urged the Danish Football Association to extend Olsen's contract, citing his track record. - Sapa-dpa