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Danes prepare amid troubling claims

The lead up to tomorrow’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Copenhagen between Denmark and Greece has not been entirely smooth for the hosts. Adding to its ongoing criticism of coach Morten Olsen’s unwillingness to make changes to the team, local news media outlets have now run stories contending that Olsen is negotiating a move to German club Bayer Leverkusen. Olsen has denied these claims, and purported contact with Bayer Leverkusen manager Rudi Voeller. The German club is seeking a new coach following the resignation of Klaus Augenthaler last month. «It’s a little bit disappointing that the news media believe I’m negotiating with Rudi Voeller, or anybody else, when there’s such an important game to be played by our national team against Greece,» countered Olsen. «If they believe such a thing, then they don’t know me. I’m totally focused on the upcoming games, and, regardless of what happens at Parken stadium on Saturday, will be coach of the national team next week,» he added. Denmark plays its final qualifier against Kazakhstan next Wednesday. After group winner Ukraine qualified for next year’s 32-team finals in Germany, Turkey, Greece and Denmark are in a tight race to finish second and seek qualification through play-offs. Turkey is second with 20 points and with one game left to play. Third-place Greece, with 18 points, and fourth-place Denmark, with 16 points, each have two matches remaining. On the final night of Group 2 qualifiers, next Wednesday, Turkey travels to Albania, while Greece ends its campaign at home against Georgia. Behind-the-scenes drama aside, Olsen yesterday summoned rookie Leon Andreasen to join the squad as a backup because two defenders have skipped training. Veteran Thomas Helveg, who has made 97 international appearances, skipped practice Wednesday and yesterday because of an Achilles tendon problem. He is uncertain for tomorrow’s game, as is defender Michael Gravgaard. Helveg said he missed two days of training to recover fully. Andreasen, a 22-year-old newcomer on the national side, joined the training camp in Vedbaek near Copenhagen. Injured midfielder Claus Jensen also skipped yesterday’s training. Key striker Jon Dahl Tomasson quit yesterday’s training to put an ice bag on his left leg. Olsen will definitely be able to call on forwards Jesper Groenkjaer, Dennis Rommedahl and Soeren Larsen, who scored twice against Georgia last month. Veterans Thomas Soerensen, Martin Joergensen and Thomas Gravesen will also play against Greece. Greece striker Angelos Charisteas, who has a head injury, is uncertain for tomorrow’s match. Charisteas is the European champions’ top scorer with 14 goals in 48 matches. Also doubtful is defender Takis Fyssas, now playing club soccer with Scottish front-runner Hearts. He suffered a knee injury in a recent clash against Glasgow Rangers. Despite their conditions, both Charisteas and Fyssas traveled with the Greek squad to Copenhagen yesterday. In past encounters, Greece has beaten Denmark just once in Copenhagen, with a 1-0 score in a World Cup qualifier back in 1980. Commenting on the Greek soccer federation’s website, that game’s scorer, veteran Dinos Kouis, expressed hope that Greece would respond to tomorrow’s challenge. «It’s a very difficult game that will determine second place in the group. I’m hopeful that Greece can collect the three points because the team has proven that, in tough situations, it gets the required results,» said Kouis. «We’re up against an established and experienced side that’s usually not absent from major tournaments and whose recent form has been improving.» (Kathimerini, AP)