Kim Milton Nielsen was talking to Alex Griffiths
It’s World Cup play-off time again and the whole of Denmark will have its eyes on the draw to be made on Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland.
When most people think of the national team, and I mean even non-Danish people, they often put Preben Elkjaer at the top of the list, even above Michael Laudrup, Allan Simonsen, Peter Schmeichel and probably our current top player, Christian Eriksen.
When I think of Elkjaer, however, it is Switzerland that once again comes to mind, and one game in particular when he fell into a Swiss trap by getting himself booked after their defence set out to disturb him and succeeded in leaving Copenhagen with a 0-0 draw. You either loved or hated the man.
But why dwell on such a game when I can tell you about an even greater reawakening than appears to be occurring right now, fingers crossed!
I will never forget the 5th of June, 1985, which happens to be our Constitution Day, but also coincided with the visit of a very strong USSR team. Our challenge was to win and thereby qualify for our first ever World Cup, believe it or not, the following year in Mexico.
How well I remember the sunny weather as I walked to the stadium and the sense of optimism that seemed to transfer itself from the fans to the team, who won 4-2 with two goals each from Elkjaer and Laudrup.
It was such a beautiful game, and closer than it sounds. I still see the referee from that day occasionally, in his assessor role, the Austrian Horst Baummeier, and I always say “you are still famous in Denmark for this game”!
He remembers it being an easy day for himself, as the football itself was so good. Just as we had a foreign coach back then in Sepp Piontek, we now have the Norwegian Aage Hareide, who many of you may recall playing for Manchester City many blue moons ago.
It has felt like a new start for us since we lost our last play-off, against Sweden, two years ago, and just like in those heady days of 1985 and 1986, the players once again come from the best leagues around Europe, and are no longer mere substitutes. Just as that celebrated team featured championship winners of West Germany, England, Netherlands, Italy and Belgium in their ranks, there was only one player in last Sunday’s draw with Romania who plays for a Danish team.
Only a year ago, after we had lost to Montenegro, qualification looked most unlikely, and it really was typical that we again let ourselves down against a lower-ranking team. As soon as the pressure is on, look at the difference in what we can deliver, and we really have not looked back since beating our group’s winners, Poland, 4-0.
That is one reason why I am hoping for the strongest possible play-off opposition from the four possibilities, which include Ireland and Northern Ireland. Playing against anyone we consider to be weaker only seems to lead us to play at 80%, when what we should be at is obviously 100%.
Whoever it turns out to be, the stadium will be full, when they have been struggling to fill it with the recent visits of teams who bring very few supporters themselves, such as Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Back in June we may have drawn with World Cup holders Germany, but theirs was such an under-strength side, sent merely to help us commemorate our win in Sweden 25 years ago, that I felt it offered no real guide to either side’s form at all.
Until next time, vi ses, or see you later.