Denmark's Sepp Piontek does not spend as much time on the field instructing his players as most other coaches of World Cup teams. Instead, he spends much of his time traveling, staying in touch with his players.
Denmark produces some marvelous soccer players; the problem is, practically none of them play in their home country. Because salaries in Denmark's professional league are so poor, the country's best and brightest migrate to other countries in Europe for a living. And so, when Piontek became Denmark's national coach in 1979, he had to stay on the move, maintaining contact with those talented fellows and convincing them to play for their country's team.
"It was not easy," Piontek said. "We simply never had the money to bring these players home for international matches, and we certainly did not have the money to make them stay here and play professionally.
"It has forced me to travel all over Europe on a week-to-week basis. I go to West Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, England to watch the Danish players."
Piontek's persistence has produced Denmark's finest-ever team. In the 1984 European Nations Cup in France, Denmark made the semifinals. And this year, the Danes qualified for their first World Cup.
It has been no token appearance; the team has advanced to the round of 16 with a flourish, showing some of the most stylish offensive play of the tournament and clinching first place in Group E with a 2-0 victory over West Germany today in Queretaro.
The Danes' performances have been remarkable to many observers. Of the starting 11, only one player -- goalkeeper Troels Rasmussen -- plays in his home country. The rest are scattered through Europe much of the year, which is why Danish supporters have nicknamed the team "The Common Market Cocktail."
"Of course, we have to blend several different styles of play in a short time, but we really are one big family," Piontek said. "We only meet for international matches, but, when you think about it, these players have been friends for five years now, and they get along very well.
"We have a good blend of individual offensive players and team players."
Piontek himself is an unusual case -- born in East Germany, a citizen of West Germany, where he played and coached, and, finally, coach of Denmark's team. His selection as coach was controversial, but now he is viewed as something of a national hero in Denmark.
Still, when Scotland's coach, Alex Ferguson, told reporters several weeks before the World Cup: "I reckon the Danes are the best team in Europe," there were scores of doubters.
But Piontek's team has gained tremendous respect the past two weeks with its refreshing attacking style in a World Cup marked largely thus far by plodding offenses and rough play.
Piontek has put together a devastating forward line led by Preben Elkjaer and Michael Laudrup, both of whom play in the Italian league. Elkjaer, 28, gained the Cup spotlight with three goals in a 6-1 victory over Uruguay Sunday.
"Elkjaer has the criminal instinct of a goal scorer," Argentine striker Jorge Valdano said.
With 36-year-old captain Morten Olsen anchoring the defense, Denmark allowed one goal -- a penalty kick by Uruguay's Enzo Francescoli -- in three first-round Cup matches in Group E, considered the toughest preliminary division. In addition, Denmark tied the Soviet Union for most goals scored (nine) and greatest goal differential in the first round.
But Denmark's road quickly gets more difficult. First, there is Spain, the 1984 European Nations Cup runner-up, on Wednesday. If the Danes win that game, they almost certainly would meet the Soviet Union in the quarterfinals. And Piontek is concerned because he is missing his two key midfielders -- Jens-Jorn Bertelsen (ankle injury) and Per Frimann (leg injury).
"To become world champion, you need a strong reserve bank of players, and we're down two right now," Piontek said.
Still, under Piontek's guidance, Denmark's world soccer prospects are bright. And if Piontek needs to plug a few holes before the 1990 Cup, "I can just go out on the road again and maybe find some more Danish players in Europe I did not know about."
In Queretaro today, Denmark fashioned its victory over West Germany with the help of inspired goalkeeping from Lars Hogh and scores by Jesper Olsen and John Eriksen.
In Nezahualcoyotl, Uruguay advanced to the second round with a 0-0 tie against Scotland, knocking the Scots out of the competition. At the 53-second mark, Uruguay's Jose Alberto Batista received the quickest ejection in World Cup history for hitting Scotland's Gordon Strachan.
In Queretaro, West Germany seemed the better team for much of the day, but Denmark had the better goalkeeper. Rasmussen, resting a minor injury, was replaced by Hogh, who left his feet to make six outstanding first-half saves. West German striker Rudi Voller was frustrated most often.
Denmark scored its first goal with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Morten Olsen, driving into the penalty area, was tripped from behind by Wolfgang Rolff. Jesper easily converted the penalty kick.
In the 18th minute of the second half, Denmark's Frank Arnesen penetrated to the right side of the penalty area and sent a centering pass to Eriksen, who, left wide open by a defensive breakdown, scored easily to make it 2-0.