May 29, 1998

Laudrup brothers lead revival, hope for return of Euro '92 glory

By Stephan Nasstrom

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - They're no longer the ``Danish Dynamite'', yet after a 12-year absence from the World Cup, Denmark will be looking to recapture some of its former glory when it steps onto French soil.

Virtually everyone Ullevi Stadium - except the Germans - cheered when little Denmark upset mighty Germany to win the 1992 European Championship in Gote-borg, Sweden.

That stunning victory after replacing banned Yugoslavia two weeks before the tournament began, remains the highest team honor ever achieved in Danish sports history.

The Danes surprisingly failed to qualify for the World Cup two years later in the United States and a defensive-minded team flopped in the 1996 European Championship in England.

Coach Richard Moller Nielsen left for Finland after that disappointment, and a coach from Denmark's traditional archrival, Sweden, replaced him. A controversial selection mainly because of his nationality, Bo Johansson has since won the hearts of players and fans.

Fifteen months after losing 3-0 to Croatia in the Europeans, Denmark beat the same team 3-0 in Copenhagen to complete a perfect home record in its World Cup qualifying group and virtually clinch a berth in France.

The key to Denmark's revival has been the Laudrup brothers, midfielder Michael of Ajax Amsterdam and striker Brian of Glasgow Rangers. Under Moller Nielsen, both refused to play for their country at one point. Another important change was Johansson's decision to go with a new 4-4-2 system instead of Moller Nielsen's packed midfield.

Michael Laudrup, who has won league titles with powerhouses such as Juventus (Italy), Barcelona and Real Madrid (both Spain), is the only survivor of Denmark's 1986 World Cup side in Mexico.

The ``Danish Dynamite'' team with Preben Elkjaer and Frank Arnesen as its biggest stars beat Scotland, Uruguay and eventual finalist West Germany before crashing out to Spain 5-1 in the round of 16.

Johansson says his team has the capabilty to reach the quarterfinals, one notch below his native country's remarkable achievment in the 1994 World Cup when Sweden finished third.

Michael Laudrup, nearing the end of his career at 34, says it could happen with a bit of luck.

'We're in a group with France, Saudi Arabia and South Africa,'' Laudrup says. ``If we're up to normal form, we'll get into the second round. Then, it's a matter of luck and the form we show on the day.''

Brian Laudrup compares this side to the one that won the Europeans.

``Denmark will go to France with the same enthusiasm as 1992 when we went to Sweden,'' he said.

Another Danish strength is goalkeeping. When healthy Manchester United's Peter Schmeichel, also 34, still is one of the world's top keepers. Surprisingly, Schmeichel was not named Denmark's top 'keeper in 1997. That honor went to Erik Boye, who plays for Vejle in the Danish Super-liga and could be Sch-meichel's backup in France.

And the biggest asset Denmark will take to France are the ``Roligans,'' their sometimes boisterous, beer-drinking followers who share a reputation with Scotland's ``Tartan Army'' as the most loyal yet behaved fans.

Taking their name from the Danish word for quiet (rolig), the Roligans usually add to the game's atmosphere, if not their team's performance.