By Peter Bruun & Ulf Inge Bjaaland
A war of words has broken out in the Danish and Norwegian press ahead of Saturday's UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying fixture between the two nations in Copenhagen.
Whispers from Denmark's camp suggest they think their neighbours play one-dimensional football - striker Ebbe Sand calling it "primitive" - while Norway need only look at the Group 2 table, which they lead, for confirmation that their style is effective. Nils Johan Semb's side have ten points from four matches, second-placed Denmark seven.
The Denmark coach, Morten Olsen, has more than a few teasing headlines to concern himself with, though. Having already lost a quartet of regulars, including the AC Milan striker Jon Dahl Tomasson, to injury, Olsen could only look on in dismay as three more players failed to negotiate training yesterday, including captain René Henriksen of Panathinaikos FC.
Expected to play
Brøndby IF defender Morten Wieghorst and Chelsea FC winger Jesper Gronkjaer, who limped off with a swollen foot, were the other casualties. However, Denmark's medical team are confident all three will be fit to play at the Parken stadium. The match is a sell-out, with more than 12,000 Norwegian spectators expected to make the trip south across the Skagerrak.
The game has been dubbed 'the match of the century' in Norway and TV3 plans to begin its coverage six hours prior to kick-off. It may also spend two hours reflecting on the match, although that could change if Semb's side lose. Their last meeting was a thriller, Norway striker John Carew rescuing a 2-2 draw last September after Tomasson had scored twice for Denmark.
The luxury of a full-strength squad has allowed Semb to enjoy the pre-match hype. Olsen has barred his players from discussing the match - "Enough is enough," he said. "I want to focus on the game" - but Semb said: "Most things have just been said in jest and it only contributes to making the match a real party.
I wish there was this much attention before every international."
Semb has to decide whether to play 4-5-1 or deploy the 4-4-1-1 system which would allow Ole Gunnar Solskjær to play off Tore André Flo. Olsen, meanwhile, will wait to see who is fit before selecting his side. Should Denmark fail to win then Romania would leapfrog them into second place by defeating Bosnia-Herzegovina, who also have six points from four games following a 2-0 triumph in Denmark last time out.
Change of plan
Like Olsen, Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu is troubled by injuries. "All my plans must now be reconsidered," he said yesterday after the 35-year-old Dorinel Munteanu damaged a muscle in training. The VfL Wolfsburg midfield player will miss Saturday's game in Craiova and Wednesday's trip to Norway. The previous day defender Iulian Filipescu was also ruled out, while George Ogararu was expelled from the squad for arriving late.
'Decide the future'
Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Blaz Sliškovic's biggest task will be replacing the injured Galatasaray SK striker Elvir Baljic. "We will play our best because we want to remain in contention for second place in the group," he said. "Romania are favourites to win this match so a draw would be like a victory to us. I will ask my players to repeat their performance in Denmark." As that result showed, this group will go to the wire.
Additional reporting by Paul-Daniel Zaharia and Fuad Krvavac
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