HELSINGOR, Denmark (Reuters) - Without Nicklas Bendtner, the Danish team’s training camp has seemed like Hamlet without the prince but with two home World Cup qualifiers left, the striker is back - and as confident as ever.
Speaking to Reuters at the team hotel in Helsingor, the scene of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, the 25-year-old was clearly excited to be making his international comeback following a six-month suspension. The Danish FA had banished him after he was arrested for drink-driving in Copenhagen in March.
“It’s fantastic. I love being here and I love playing for the team, so I‘m very pleased to be back,” he said ahead of their Group B match against already-qualified Italy on Friday.
Despite being in international exile, Bendtner tried to follow Denmark on TV and internet streams. But unfortunately for the Danes, the results in his absence were rather patchy.
A 3-0 away win against the Czech Republic was followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Bulgaria.
Worse was to come when Armenia almost extinguished Denmark’s hopes of making it to the finals in Brazil next year with a 4-0 thrashing in Copenhagen.
Narrow victories away to Armenia and Malta have put them back in contention but with Bulgaria one point ahead of them in second place, the Danes’ 2014 World Cup future hangs in the balance.
Even if they win their two remaining qualifiers, they will probably need their rivals to slip up to have any chance of securing a playoff spot.
In Bendtner’s absence the team has created plenty of chances, but with just nine goals in eight qualifying games and defender Daniel Agger topping the scoring charts with a miserly two goals, the signs are that their attack is not quite right.
”I can see how it would seem like that,“ Bendtner said of his side’s struggle to find the net. ”But I‘m sure everyone has given 100 percent effort and tried their best. On the goal-scoring side we haven’t been as efficient as we would have liked to be.
“I think a lot of the players we have in the team are good individually and good at creating chances. With (Denmark coach) Morten’s (Olsen) way of mixing it all together, we’re creating a lot of possibilities.”
Bendtner did not want to rake over his troubled past or discuss his club situation after receiving a lukewarm reception at Arsenal following season-long loan spell at Juventus.
All that matters to him this week is the national team and the matches against Italy on Friday and Malta four days later.
Despite winning the Serie A title with Juventus, Bendtner wants to show the Italians what he is capable of as he struggled for playing time and form in Turin, failing to find the net while at the Italian champions.
“I think when you come back it’s always natural that the eyes will be on you, so the main thing is to try to cope with the pressure and do your best. Then again, a lot of people with the national team know what I‘m about,” Bendtner added, his face breaking into a smile as his famed self-confidence returned.
“The fans as well. They’ve seen me play 55 games (for Denmark), so it’s just a matter of proving why you played those games and why you’ve scored those goals.”
Danish fans will be hoping that Bendtner can add to that tally of 22 goals for Denmark and help them qualify for the World Cup - and avoid a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions by missing out on a trip to Brazil. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)