SOCIAL SCIENTISTS SAY DANES ARE AMONG THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ON EARTH, AND THE CURRENT STATE OF THE NATIONAL TEAM WILL DO LITTLE TO DAMPEN THEIR MOOD. SHORT ON star power but long on chemistry, experience and team spirit, Denmark finished first in a qualifying group that featured redoubtable Portugal and Sweden.
The Danish federation stuck by Morten Olsen, the longest-tenured coach of the 32 who will go to South Africa, despite the squad's failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup or Euro 2008. That loyalty was rewarded when the Olsen-Banden (the Olsen Gang) dispatched the Swedes in October to clinch a fourth trip to the finals.
At the 2002 World Cup (under Olsen, of course), Denmark crashed the second round with a 2-0 upset of reigning champion France before falling to England. This year's team features a number of holdovers from that side—among them forward and captain Jon Dahl Tomasson, attacking midfielder Martin Jørgensen and winger Dennis Rommedahl—comprising a veteran core whose experience helps compensate for shortcomings in personnel.
With so few players from Europe's top leagues it's tempting to write off Denmark as a group-stage also-ran. But those qualifying victories over Sweden (twice) and Portugal in Lisbon prove that the Olsen-Banden should not be taken lightly.
While Olsen favors a 4-4-2 formation with Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner, 22, and the veteran Tomasson up top, he'll sometimes play a 4-5-1 with Bendtner as the lone striker. Super sub Søren Larsen, who bagged a group-high five goals in qualifying, offers valuable offensive punch off the bench.
Denmark's strongest unit features Christian Poulsen, a resilient if combustible playmaker, and the unrelated Jakob Poulsen, a holding midfielder who passes adroitly and made a long-range strike against Sweden. Jørgensen, a 34-year-old veteran of two Cups and two Euros, is a creative playmaker who can still run defenders ragged.
Liverpool's Daniel Agger anchors the back line, where he partners with Palermo youngster Simon Kjaer in central defense. Lars Jacobsen is a quick, capable right back with Premier League experience at Blackburn. Veteran goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen, the starter during Denmark's run to the round of 16 in 2002, has played 12 years in England and won't be intimidated by the big stage.