Denmark stole a march on Scandinavian neighbours Norway in Copenhagen tonight, climbing above their rivals to the summit of UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 2 with a deserved victory.
Jesper Grønkjær's sixth-minute goal was enough to seal the three points, which lift Denmark to the top of the standings by virtue of a better head-to-head record against tonight's opponents. Both sides have ten points from five matches, one point clear of third-placed Romania, whom Norway face on Wednesday. Denmark visit Luxembourg on the same night.
"It was an intense match, and both sides gave all they had," said Denmark coach Morten Olsen after the game. "Obviously we need three points against Luxembourg, but the pressure is now on Norway." His opposite number, Nils Johan Semb, was gracious in defeat, saying: "Congratulations to Denmark - they were a notch better than us and deserved to win."
A full house inside the Parken stadium saw the home side dominate for long periods with notable performances from Martin Laursen, Martin Jørgensen, Grønkjær and Thomas Gravesen capping a fine win for Morten Olsen's side. After falling to a 2-0 defeat against Bosnia-Herzegovina in their last home match, expectation was high before kick-off and the hosts did not disappoint.
Grønkjær on target
An early goal was always going to be a key factor, and after laying siege to the visitors' goal straight from the first whistle, Grønkjær broke the deadlock in fine style. Midfield player Claus Jensen sent the Chelsea FC winger clear and he made no mistake from ten metres, beating Frode Olsen at his near post.
The goal appeared to settle the hosts' nerves, and Grønkjær went close again ten minutes later, firing narrowly wide from 25 metres with Olsen sprawling to cover his angles. Norway almost levelled seconds later when Thomas Sørensen flapped at a cross and only a timely intervention by AC Milan's Laursen denied John Carew.
Laursen was also a threat at the other end and almost doubled his side's advantage on the half-hour when he sent a looping header on to the top of the crossbar and away to safety. Grønkjær and Jørgensen were also impressive, causing John Arne Riise and Christer Basma no end of problems down the right and left flanks respectively.
Gravesen came into his own during an eventful second half, winning possession at will and breaking forward to support Denmark's attacking players. Tough in the tackle but able to play a telling pass, the Everton FC midfield player was a constant thorn in Norway's side and seemed desperate to deny them a route back into the match.
The hosts went close again on 56 minutes but defender Morten Wieghorst lifted the ball wide of the target after Claus Jensen had wriggled free inside the area. Jørgensen then smashed a low shot goalwards only for Olsen to make a fine one-handed stop, before the keeper excelled himself again when denying first Dennis Rommedahl and then Ebbe Sand.
Carew went closest for Norway eleven minutes from time but saw Sørensen gather at the second attempt after the Valencia CF striker had tricked three players and sent his effort on target. However, it was not to be for Semb's men.