"The game isn't played on paper." How many times have we heard that phrase uttered before a match kicks off to remind us that previous performances should be consigned to history? Until the game actually starts, however, history is all we have to scour for clues as to the outcome. Players' form, past encounters, expected tactics and table rankings all get taken into consideration in the pre-match build-up as predictions are liberally tossed around.
Wednesday's game between Denmark and Portugal in Lviv is no exception, and if you compare how the players in question perform for their respective clubs – not to mention the prestige of those clubs – then Portugal undoubtedly look the strongest side. But as one coach I used to work with never tired of repeating: "No footballer is brilliant. But the thing happening between footballers can be." Essentially, defenders need support from their team-mates to close down space, playmakers need passing opportunities and dribblers need colleagues who can lure markers away, etc.
When Denmark beat Portugal 2-1 in their final UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier last October, no one could have denied that Morten Olsen's men were the superior side – on that particular day, anyway. His players were able to make each other better, while the visitors never managed to work up a rhythm together. Olsen will surely take that performance as a blueprint for tomorrow's match.
In addition, having won their opening game against the Netherlands, Denmark can play things relatively safe against the Portuguese, who will be desperate for victory following their loss to Germany. That could leave Paulo Bento's team vulnerable to counterattacks, which would suit pacy players like Dennis Rommedahl, Christian Eriksen and Nicklas Bendtner down to the ground.
Let's not forget either that Denmark stand ninth in the FIFA rankings, one rung higher on the ladder than their opponents, who have dropped from fifth. The Danes have clearly enjoyed a better string of results than Portugal in recent months and, perhaps even more significantly, they have won three and lost just one of their five meetings with the Selecção das Quinas in the last five years.
All these facts point to Denmark being realistic favourites at the Arena Lviv – but then again, the game isn't played on paper.
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