Euro 2012: SKC's Nielsen, "no chance for Denmark"

"Anything can happen in the Euros." - Nielsen

Ask Jimmy Nielsen about Denmark’s chances in Euro 2012, and his answers tend to come punctuated with pauses, shrugs and sighs.

“If I look with the Denmark glasses... no chance,” he said. “No chance for Denmark.”

Sporting Kansas City’s goalkeeper and captain, a former Danish youth international, isn’t being unnecessarily gloomy. His country is in a loaded group, with two of four semifinalists from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Danes open group play Saturday against the Netherlands, which finished runner-up to Spain two years ago. Next comes a June 11 meeting with Portugal, a round-of-16 participant in South Africa before being knocked out by the eventual champions. Denmark closes out Group B action on June 17 against third-place World Cup finisher Germany.

If there’s a bright spot in that schedule, it’s that Denmark is 3-1-1 in its last five meetings with the Portuguese.

“I think that’s the only chance to get a point,” Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday – but then again, he added, anything can happen in the Euros.

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“It’s very tough, but they have to go out there and play,” he said. “There’s no expectations. They have nothing to lose and everything to win. I think Denmark likes to be the underdogs, and they’re definitely the underdogs.”

If the Danes are to contend, Nielsen said, they’ll need a big performance from Stephan Andersen, the young keeper elevated to the top spot by an injury to starter Thomas Sorenson.

“The new No. 1, Stephan Andersen, he will have a lot of opportunities to show himself that he could go to a bigger team in Europe,” Nielsen said. “I’m pretty sure he will get the opportunities to sell himself. Playing Portugal, Germany and Holland, I’m sure he will see a lot of shots on goal. He could be the key player for Denmark.”

Longtime coach Morten Olsen has started to revamp the national side in a younger image after Denmark’s group-stage exit from the last World Cup.

“He took out a roster with old, tired, not hungry players, a little bit injured, but he still called them in,” Nielsen said. “He was not popular in Denmark for a long time because of that, because we had a lot of good talent knocking on the door and deserved the spot for the World Cup, but he didn’t take them.”

“He’s making the change now, and I think in the next World Cup or the next Euros, Denmark will have a very good team,” Nielsen said.

“I think we have an OK team now, but this Euros – no chance.”