Danish international midfield player Thomas Gravesen may not be renowned for his eye for spectacular goals, but his 45-metre effort in Saturday's UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 2 qualifier against Romania was certainly a strike to remember - and it was enough to earn him our player of the weekend honour.
With Denmark trailing 2-1 in Bucharest eight minutes into the second half, Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont raced from his area to clear ahead of the advancing Ebbe Sand. His respectable clearance fell to Gravesen just inside the hosts' half and the 27-year-old Everton FC player returned the ball with interest, looping it up and over Lobont into the unguarded net.
'I just took my chance'
Cue scenes of jubilation from the Danish players and coaching staff. Speaking about his outrageous lob after the match, Gravesen said: "
We had seen tapes of how far out of goal the Romanian goalkeeper was prepared to go, and I remembered that when the opportunity came so I just took my chance."
Denmark went on to win the game 5-2 and now top the section with seven points from three matches, ahead of Nordic rivals Norway on goal difference. Gravesen and his team-mates showed their resilience and belief to come from behind twice at the National stadium, before Jon Dahl Tomasson, Dennis Rommedahl and a Cosmin Contra own goal completed the scoring.
Born in Vejle, a small town on Denmark's Jutland peninsular, Gravesen began his professional career with hometown club Vejle BK in 1995. A season with German club FC Hansa Rostock followed, before the tough-tackling midfielder moved to Hamburger SV in 1998. After 48 appearances and four goals for the AOL Arena side, the lure of Premiership football proved too strong and Gravesen completed a €3.6m switch to Everton.
If his first two years in England were mixed, his fortunes this season have mirrored Everton's resurgence as he has held his own against the likes of Arsenal FC's Patrick Vieira in arguably Europe's most physical league. With his head clean-shaven, Gravesen cuts a mean figure. However, the man nicknamed 'Mad Dog' is more ball player than ball winner, with a good range of passes and clever dribbling ability.
The only criticism against him is a tendency to wander out of position. But when this training-ground joker - who was censured by Danish coach Morten Olsen for a tasteless prank ahead of the Bucharest tie - gets serious, he can be unstoppable.
Firmly established in Olsen's plans and with over 30 caps to his name, Gravesen is both a motivator and an inspirational leader. Having made his international bow in a 1-0 defeat by the Czech Republic in August 1998, he was part of the Danish squad at EURO 2000™ and went on to be his country's player of the tournament at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
'Men of courage'
For all the subtlety and finesse of his audacious goal against Romania, Gravesen is still a believer in the traditions of hard graft and teamwork. Summing up Denmark's performance, he said: "
We showed ourselves to be men of courage." Courage indeed, but what a goal.
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