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Denmark will decide on the fitness of striker Ebbe Sand at the last possible minute as Morten Olsen's side prepare to face the Czech Republic in the UEFA EURO 2004™ quarter-finals, with a place in the last four against Greece at stake.
Sand has been struggling with a thigh muscle strain, but Olsen is hopeful that other injury problems facing Dennis Rommedahl and Martin Jørgensen will clear up in time for them to participate. "We still have doubts about three players," the Denmark coach said. "There are question marks with Rommedahl and Jørgensen - and a very big question mark with Sand. All three have muscle problems. And when playing against an opponent like the Czechs, Ebbe will have to be 100 per cent fit."
Should Sand not make the starting lineup, Jon Dahl Tomasson may move into a more advanced role with Claus Jensen assuming attacking midfield duties. The Danes are already resigned to losing left-back Niclas Jensen to an ankle injury, although a repeat performance from Kasper Bøgelund, who deputised for the BV Borussia Dortmund player during the 2-2 draw with Sweden, would satisfy his coach. In addition, Kenneth Perez and Peter Løvenkrands are on stand-by should Rommedahl and Jørgensen suffer late setbacks.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived in Portugal yesterday to support the 1992 winners. The Danes also played in the semi-finals in 1984, although this match will be their first in the quarter-final stage since the tournament extended to 16 teams in 1996. The only team to have played in six successive UEFA European Championships, they will not be short on experience, although René Henriksen believes the Czechs will provide their sternest examination to date.
"Compared to our group matches this will be our most difficult opponent," said the Denmark captain. "The Czechs have won all their group matches, and against Germany they even won with practically all their substitutes. This will inevitably have boosted their self-confidence - and they already have a very good national team as it is."
The Czechs will be hoping to extend their winning sequence to nine matches in the competition stretching back to the qualifying round. In that sequence, the Czechs have scored two or more goals in every game, and have come from behind on five occasions. With no injury concerns, coach Karel Brückner will restore his star players to the starting lineup having rested them for the final group game against Germany as the Czechs had already secured first place.
Brückner, who won both of his two engagements against the Danes while Czech Under-21 coach, is quick to play up Denmark's strengths in attempting to avoid any complacency from his team. "The players are satisfied to meet Denmark but I am not sure that it is really good news," he said. "They play interesting football, with real purpose and quick counterattacks. We're starting again from zero and teams can play in a very different style in these one-off matches. We're not favourites at all."
The two sides met in this competition four years ago when two goals from Vladimír Šmicer helped the Czechs to a 2-0 win, although the match had no effect on which teams qualified for the quarter-finals as both had already been eliminated. But Denmark can take solace from their last competitive meeting, a 2-1 victory in Copenhagen in 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying, a result that helped Denmark win their group while the Czechs ultimately missed out in the play-offs.
Czech Republic (probable): Cech; Jiránek, Bolf, Ujfalusi, Jankulovski; Poborský, Rosický, Galásek, Nedved; Koller, Baroš.
Denmark (probable): Sørensen; Helveg, Laursen, Henriksen, Bøgelund; Gravesen, D Jensen, Tomasson; Grønkjær, Sand, Jørgensen.
Referee: Valentin Ivanov (RUS).
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