It is only 3 years ago since Wembley Stadium threw its doors wide open, over budget and over its original 2 year construction time scale by some 4 years. It seems like an age ago that the England “roadshow” used to see internationals played at regional stadiums such as St Mary’s, Pride Park and the Stadium of Light. But whatever you may feel about progress, these small stadiums were always sold out and sold out to the right fans, those who believe that face painting should be kept in the children’s nurseries and a Mexican wave is something that it done by a Arizonian across the fence at their neighbours.
So it was with some pleasure that I sat in a very sunny EnergiNord Arena, in the northern town of Aalborg in Denmark on a school night to watch the Danes play their “farewell” game before heading to South Africa in front of a sell out crowd. Some at work questioned my sanity but those who know me know what lengths I will go to to catch a game. And this was not just any old game either. New city – tick, New stadium – tick, Danish international – tick but more importantly, last game of the season. This was to be game 80 in a season that started on the 1st July in Sweden, and here I was signing off some 11 months later in a game that would decide Morton Olsen’s final 23.
Chatting to a couple of fans “in the know” that he would only take two keepers, the unlucky man being Kim Christensen simply because he played his football in Sweden! It would be ironic as Kim is the only Swedish based player to be in contention of playing in South Africa for any nation – and that was the reason why the Swedish FA agreed to suspend the league for the duration of the tournament. Also on show was Christian Eriksen, who at the age of 18 was attracting alot of attention from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United.
Despite taking over 4 hours by car or train from Copenhagen, the flight is just 30 minutes, or 23 to be precise from the moment we took off to the moment we landed in Aalborg which according to the Fuller Fact book makes it the shortest flight I have ever taken. If Danny was here I am sure he would award me 5 FIFA stars. Danny wasn’t too far away actually, enjoying the company of not one, or two but THREE girls in the TBIR Penthouse in Copenhagen readying himself for the big game at Slagelse on Sunday when FC Vestjaelland were taking on Lyngby, so who could blame him for missing this one.
Thirty minutes after landing in Aalborg, known by some (well, according to Wikipedia actually so probably no one), Paris of the North, I had dumped my bag at the Cab Inn (see what they have done there?) and started my walk to the stadium. Aalborg has one major claim to fame in Denmark – Jomfru ane Gard – the party street. A street that wouldn’t look out of place in Magaluf or Malia – wall to wall bars topped off by a couple of “full total naked” bars. Full naked seems a strange term – naked means just that – naked, so what does it mean when it is full? One for the journey back I think.
Here is the first strange question of the evening. Why was there 23 members of the Japanese press at the game? Granted they are in the same ground as Denmark, but 23 does seem a bit of an overkill to me. They got into the spirit of things though, posing for photos with a beer (Real Carlsberg!), red and white face paint and Danish flags. Must remember to look up the word to stereotype in the dictionary later.
Denmark 2 Senegal 0 – EnergiNord Arena – Thursday 27th May
It was hard to work out Olsen’s thinking when he announced his starting XI for this one. He went with his strongest back four, with Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer of Palermo in the middle, and Kahlenberg and Jorgensen at fullback but midfield was the strange one. Dennis “I can’t dribble, cross or shoot” Rommedahl on the wide right would make any Charlton Athletic fans tremble whilst Christian Poulson provided the energy. Up front was the old war horse Jon Dahl Thomasson who was still just one goal short of the most international goals record for Denmark. The only issue here is that he has been short of that record for quite some time, with the years now taking their toll on that important first few yards that a striker needs.
Senegal fielded a number of well known players such as that now world famous Manchester United centre forward Marne Birame Diouf although we were going to have to wait for a substitutes appearance from Ab Laye Seck who plays for the brilliantly named Ngb-Niary Tally club.
The crowds had flocked to the stadium, relishing the chance to give the Danes a good send off. Less than two years ago when they went to Portugal in their first qualifying game for South Africa was an untried and tested team nobody gave them a hope to get the second spot in the group, also containing Hungary and Sweden. But they came back from Lisbon with all three points and never looked back. Qualification was assured after the 1-0 win over Sweden in October 2009 and the country was getting as excited as the reserved, laid back Danes ever could (think village fete excited).
The first half was played with a very strong setting sun, making viewing for many in the stadium almost impossible. Fortunately all of the action was at the Senegal end as the defence and keeper struggled to adjust to it. Khadim Ndjaye in the Senegal goal almost gifted the Danes the lead in the 15th minute when he spilt a long range short and just recovered in time to stop the ball going over the line.
It did take until the 27th minute for us to get our first goal. A deep corner was missed by Tomasson and Christian Poulson turned the ball home after a goal line scramble. The Senegal hands went up to appeal for something but it stood.
Half time game and we were treated to the official Danish World Cup song – “The Danish Way to Rock“, the chorus sung in English of course but actually pretty catchy and it earnt NME points for featuring the team in the video a la This Time.
The start of the second half brought changes for both teams, with Olsen throwing on Malaga’s Patrick Mtiliga for his last throw of the dice. Senegal nearly got their equaliser in the 53rd minute when midfielder Ndiaye drilled a shot inches wide from the edge of the box.
On the hour the Danes brought on prodigal son Thomas Enevoldsen for his fourth cap. Enevoldsen had played for Aalborg in their glory years under Bruce Rioch when the club won the Superliga title. And that signalled the end of rational thought. Forget everything I have written above about plastic fans. The Mexican Wave started, and of course with it starting so did any concentration on the actual game.
Fifteen minutes to go and all the scouts around us sat up as Christian Eriksen came on for Rommedahl who according to the Stats guy next to me had a pass completion rate of 12% on the night, which is considerably better than they ever saw at The Valley.
There seems to always be a heartbreak story in the run up to the World Cup and tonight it was the impressive Danish defender Simon Kjær. The Palermo based defender, arguably the first choice centre back with Agger made a fantastic goal saving tackle towards the end of the game and in the process damaged his knee ligaments and was stretchered off, with his World Cup dreams seemingly in tatters.
91 minutes gone, and just one to go and it was fitting that local boy Thomas Enevoldsen scored the second goal to cap a comfortable performance for the home team slotting home after being given the freedom of the penalty area. At the final whistle there was no fanfare, no lap of honour just minimal fuss as I have come to expect from the Danes. But rest assured they were ready to rock! Right now to investigate the term “total naked”….don’t tell CMF!
More photos can be seen here.
Morten Olsen wasted no time at all at culling his squad with no surprises in IFK Keeper Christriansen cut as well as Celtic’s Daniel Rasmussen.
Denmark World Cup squad: Thomas Sorensen (Stoke), Stefan Andersen (Brondby), Jesper Christiansen; Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Simon Kjaer (Palermo), Per Kroldrup (Fiorentina), Lars Jacobsen (Blackburn), Simon Busk Poulsen, William Kvist Jorgensen, Patrick Mtiliga (Malaga); Daniel Jensen (Werder Bremen), Christian Poulsen (Juventus), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Jakob Poulsen (AGF), Martin Jorgensen (AGF), Mikkel Beckmann (Randers), Thomas Enevoldsen, Thomas Kahlenberg (Wolfsburg), Dennis Rommedahl (Ajax), Jesper Gronkjaer; Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord), Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal), Soeren Larsen (Duisburg).