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Nestled deep in the bowels of the Metalist Stadium and with the weight of both recent and more long-term history stacked against his team, Denmark's Morten Olsen could have been forgiven for feeling the strain ahead of Saturday's UEFA EURO 2012 Group B opener against the Netherlands.
The venerable coach, though, was the model of calm throughout Friday's pre-match press conference, jousting with journalists, dismissing unwanted questions and playing a straight bat when needed. His team, however, have a far tougher task ahead of them. Denmark have not beaten the Dutch in eight games and 45 years, their most recent meeting a 2-0 defeat in their opening assignment at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"I'm actually quite jealous of the Dutch as we're not in their shoes," said Olsen, tongue firmly in his cheek. "They're the favourites and there's no doubt about that. They have quality players in all positions and also on the bench, which is filled with great quality. The Dutch say that if they don't win the title then that will be a tremendous disappointment; we can't say that. What we can say is that if we get through this group then we've already won."
Olsen's admission is little surprise considering Germany and Portugal complete a section which looks to be this tournament's toughest. Throw in the Dutch's run all the way to the World Cup final two years ago, and his desire to play down his team's chances is understandable. "That's the realistic situation but it doesn't mean we'll throw the towel in," he added.
Barely an hour later, Bert van Marwijk followed his Danish counterpart into the same room; ten minutes on and he was back out and onto the pitch for training. Shorn of Joris Mathijsen due to a hamstring injury, the Dutch coach was giving nothing away about the make-up of his defence, his plan to stifle the Danes or how far his team, perhaps first among equals in the section, can go. He was, though, quick to agree with Olsen. "They say they're going to be underdogs and I think so as well, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy for us," he said.
There was further consensus when Van Marwijk was pushed on Olsen's suggestion that the Netherlands have an air of "good arrogance" about them. Despite that, the Dutch trainer is keen to steer his team clear of falling into the trap of thinking three points are already in the bag.
"It's going to be very difficult," he said. "We played against them two years ago and it's very difficult to make a comparison. Everything was new for us two years ago, for me and for the players. Now we've got that experience but that just means we might be more complacent because we've done it before." Rest assured the Danes are poised.
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