Denmark football history - Part 5 - The Olsen Gang

Wed, Oct 10 2018

Credit: Eddie Lennon

Diarmuid Kearney has been looking back through the Danish football records to bring you a series tracing the country’s football team’s history.

Part 1 - Early Amatuer Days

Part 2 - Signing with Carlsberg and the Danish Dynamite

Part 3 - Euro 92 Failure To Finest Hour

Part 4 - The fall from grace 

Part 5 - The Olsen Gang

Denmark appointed former national team captain from the successful ”Danish Dynamite”  team of the 1980s as their new manager with Morten Olsen taking up the role in July 2000. His team was quickly dubbed the "Olsen Gang", a reference to the series of Danish movies based around the main character Egon Olsen.

The Danes were now opting to use a different style of tactics adapting an even more attacking style with an emphasis on speedy wingers available at the time, namely Jesper Grønkjær and Dennis Rommedah, using either a 4–3–3 or a 4–2–3–1 formation.

Olsen always had an opposition to the original 4–4–2 system, as he threatened to leave his position as head coach in the event he was asked to switch back and play the old formation. 

Another change Olsen brought to the national team under his new regime was to stress the importance of only using fit players who had been granted regular playing time at their club. However due to Denmark being a small nation this was sometimes not always the case.

Under Olsen, Denmark qualified both for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, but despite impressive results in the group stage in both tournaments, especially a 2–0 win against reigning World Cup winners France in 2002, Denmark would not make any headway in both tournaments going out at the next hurdle after the group stages losing both ties 3-0 respectively. 

At the 2002 World Cup, they were beaten by England in the round of 16 and at Euro 2004, they were eliminated in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic.

Next up for Denmark was qualification for the 2006 World Cup, Denmark were put into a tough group and paired with among others, 2002 World Cup bronze winners Turkey and Euro 2004 champions Greece, all of which were competing for only one guaranteed spot at the final tournament. 

Following a poor start of the qualification, Denmark was trailing both Turkey and surprise leaders Ukraine. Denmark needed Turkey to lose points in the final games in order for Denmark to clinch the second place of the group and one last chance to qualify via two playoff games.

If had Turkey dropped points to Albania in their last match, Denmark would have gone through to the finals, but instead they had to settle for third place in the group.

After failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Morten Olsen considered leaving the job, having received several offers from club teams, but decided to stay and extended his contract until after the 2010 World Cup, spurred on by his and the team's popularity among the Danish population.

When Denmark's attempt to qualify for the Euro 2008 also failed the team were heavily criticized, with many Danes asking for Morten Olsen to be removed as a coach. The cries of many Danish people was however refused by the DBU and the majority of coaches in the Danish Superliga, who still had trust in Olsen being the best coach for Denmark. In the qualification group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the trust in Olsen was immediately paid back.

Despite a difficult group with both Portugal and Sweden as higher-ranked opponents, Denmark qualified for the 2010 World Cup by winning the group, after among other things, earning two wins against Sweden and one win and one draw against Portugal. After having celebrated the successful World Cup 2010 qualification, Olsen's contract as head coach was extended for two further years, until the Euro 2012.

At the 2010 World Cup, Denmark were paired in their group with Japan, Cameroon and the Netherlands. Denmark lost the first match 2–0 to Netherlands, but then had a vital 2–1 victory against Cameroon, the final group match against Japan would decide who would progress out of the group, Denmark however suffered a 3–1 defeat and did not reach the round of 16.

After the failures of the 2010 World Cup, Denmark would manage to bounce back during qualification for Euro 2012.

Denmark were once again grouped with Portugal, among other countries. For a second time, Denmark clinched first place in the group, and qualified for the final tournament. Out of eight qualifying matches, Denmark won six, drew one and lost one. Mostly because of these results, the DBU extended Olsen's contract until after the 2014 World Cup.

At Euro 2012, Denmark were drawn in the proclaimed "Group of Death", Group B, alongside powerhouses Germany, Netherlands and Portugal. Few gave Denmark a chance of proceeding to the second round before the tournament, but after upsetting Netherlands with a 1–0 victory, there was cause for optimism in the Danish camp.

However, a narrow 3–2 loss to Portugal meant Denmark would effectively need to defeat Germany in the last match to advance in the tournament.

Despite Michael Krohn-Dehli's equaliser, Denmark lost 2–1 to neighbours Germany, and with Portugal defeating the Netherlands 2–1 in the other match, Denmark was eliminated from the tournament after finishing third in Group B.

Denmark would fail to qualify for the next two tournaments under Olsen. They finished second in their 2014 World Cup qualifying group but failed to achieve a play-off position they were the "worst" of the UEFA group runners-up.

During Euro 2016 qualifying they finished third in their group, behind Albania and eventual winners Portugal, but lost to Sweden in the play-offs.

Shortly after Denmark failed to qualify for Euro 2016, Olsen saw his contract terminated by the DBU. Olsen's reign of the Danish national team from July 2000 until January 2012 has so far been the second-most successful in the era of full-time professional coaches, which began in July 1979.

In comparison, Richard Møller Nielsen still has the best record among the professional coaches of the national team, with a 54.8% winning share and an average of 1.89 points per game.

Next up - Age Hareide And Present Day