John Jensen tells TheFA.com that Gravesen will be Denmark's biggest threat...
Denmark face England at the 'Theatre of Dreams' on Sunday looking for revenge having been eliminated from the last World Cup at the hands of the Three Lions. And one man who knows both teams extremely well, former Arsenal and Denmark international John Jensen, spoke to TheFA.com about the game...
Depending upon which way you look at it, John Jensen is either best remembered in this country as being the man who broke German hearts during the final of Euro 92, or as the midfielder who took over two seasons to score his first goal for Arsenal, the only strike in his 132-match Gunner career.
However, that was not the reason why the popular Dane left north London for Brøndby in the summer of 1996 after a quietly successful four years at Highbury, more a case of failing to see eye to eye with the new man in charge of the club, Bruce Rioch.
And, having hung up his boots at the conclusion of the 1998/99 campaign, Jensen then decided to try his hand at management, proving an instant hit by winning the Danish Superleague in his very first season with Herfølge.
Despite subsequent relegation in 2001, Jensen has since formed a highly-successful managerial double-act back at Brøndby with arguably the greatest footballer Denmark has ever produced, Michael Laudrup.
"I'm having a fabulous time at Brøndby", confirmed Laudrup's assistant when we spoke. "We are joint top of the League, are through to the second round of the UEFA Cup and are playing some good, exciting football, so yes, everything is going well at the moment."
Brøndby, who are managed by Laudrup, with Jensen as his No 2, have produced one player towards Denmark coach Morten Olsen's squad of 20 that will take on England in Manchester on Sunday, ex-Celtic midfielder Morten Wieghorst.
And everyone from Celtic Park, and football fans in general, will be glad to hear that "Morten has recovered well from the illness that affected him when he was at Celtic and is back to his best."
This weekend's visitors, under the leadership of the well-respected Olsen, joined Sven-Göran Eriksson's England as one of ten automatic qualifiers for Euro 2004 next summer by topping a tough-looking Group Two ahead of the likes of both runners-up Norway and third-placed Romania, although that did not shock the 38-year-old.
"I wasn't that surprised they qualified in first place because when I watched their first six matches, especially their defeat of Norway, I thought that they were the best team in the group," said the man who won an FA Cup winners' medal with Arsenal ten years ago.
The Danes lost just one of their eight qualifying games, a 2-0 reverse in Copenhagen against fourth-in-the-table Bosnia and Herzegovina, scraping past the finish line with a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Bosnia in their final qualifier to leave them just a point ahead of Scandinavian rivals Norway in the final group standings.
They also enjoyed notable victories in Romania, (a game that saw Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen score from the halfway line in an impressive 5-2 victory) and at home to Norway and like their hosts on Sunday, will be looking towards this fixture as an opportunity to experiment before June's finals.
And the man who won 69 caps for his country in a distinguished nine-year international career, believes that now the Danes have actually made it to Portugal, once the tournament begins, they will "cause a few surprises".
"In both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, Denmark played like a tournament team, getting better as the tournament went on", he continued. "And if they get no injuries or suspensions and a little luck, then I think that they will be a very difficult team to beat in Portugal."
But good enough to win the tournament, like the player himself eleven years ago? "No, I don't think they can win the whole thing", was his honest reply.
Jensen, who made his international debut in 1986 and scored a brilliant opening goal for the Danes in that final when they beat favourites Germany 2-0 in Gothenburg, thinks that the main difference between Olsen's current crop of internationals and the side that he played in that were crowned kings of Europe, is that the former "has an absence of individuals who can surprise opponents".
"The national team is good now. A year ago Denmark were a very attacking team, however Olsen has now changed the way they are playing so as to be more controlled in defence and midfield."
The last time the two sides met, at the Big Swan stadium during the second round of the 2002 World Cup, England found themselves 3-0 ahead after only 44 minutes thanks to goals from Rio Ferdinand, his first in an England shirt, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey and cruising into a quarter-final showdown with eventual winners Brazil.
Interestingly enough, of the 27 players on display in Niigata that day, only eight have not be chosen in the respective squads for Sunday's clash, Stig Tøfting and Kasper Bøgelund for Denmark and David Seaman, Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Owen, Kieron Dyer and Teddy Sheringham for England, continuity very much the way forward in international football these days.
Jensen though, who also played at Euro 88 alongside both Olsen and Laudrup, believes that "the game at Old Trafford will be different to their last meeting, as it is a friendly" and that the main danger posed to Eriksson's side will come from someone they should know all about.
"The player who can hurt England the most will be Gravesen, who is an excellent midfielder and I think that midfield will be the key area of the match." However, he is quick to point out that the visitors also arrive with a whole host of speed merchants in the wide areas of their side who could cause plenty of trouble to England's two full backs.
"Denmark has a lot of quick wingers, including Jesper Grønkjær, who is having a good start to the season with Chelsea, Dennis Rohmedhal, Peter Løvenkrands and Martin Jørgensen, although recently it is our forwards who haven't been playing so well and have been disappointing."
And yet those so-called "disappointing" forwards, AC Milan's Jon Dahl Tomasson and his strike partner from Schalke, Ebbe Sand, have 46 international goals between them from only 112 games; Jensen himself hit the back of the net on just four occasions in his 69 matches for Denmark!
The Ex-Gunner is expecting some fireworks at the home of Manchester United come kick-off time on Sunday, although different from the ones that were set off the last time his old club visited Old Trafford.
"I think it will be a 2-2 draw, although I hope that Denmark win 3-2! The game will be very difficult for Denmark, but also I think it will be very exciting because there will be risks taken, with it being a friendly and Denmark will hopefully attack a lot, as many players will be looking to impress the manager before next summer."
And, with the same theory applying to some of the youthful Three Lions selected by Eriksson earlier this week, expect a high-quality encounter starring performers on both sides eager to lay down markers ahead of next summer's European Championship finals.
John Jensen was talking to Richard Morgan