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World Cup Celts: Marc Rieper’s story

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Marc Rieper

Former Celt Marc Rieper’s mind will drift back twelve years to France 98 and what might have been when Denmark face Holland in the World Cup tomorrow.

Straight from stopping ten-in-a-row the centre-half teamed up with his Danish international team-mates for a journey that would involve glory and dejection and which virtually ended his football career.

A squad containing the Laudrup brothers, Michael and Brian, as well as Peter Schmeichel gave the Danes hope in a group that contained the hosts France as well as South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

A win over Saudi Arabia, courtesy of a goal from Rieper, a draw with South Africa that saw Morten Wieghorst sent off and a defeat from France was enough to take Denmark into the last 16 where an impressive 4-1 win over fancied Nigeria set up a quarter-final clash with Brazil in Nantes.

“Once we beat Nigeria we fancied ourselves to go all the way,” Rieper recalled. “Obviously being drawn with Brazil was going to be tough but we played very well and maybe deserved to win the game.

“We were unlucky to lose, I hit the crossbar in the last seconds, had we won that game who knows what we might have achieved.

“Peter Schmeichel didn’t have his best game, if he had been at his usual standard we could have won that match and gone on to better things.

“We were major underdogs against Brazil but we just had to get ready to play our usual game, we did that really well and could have won.

“After the game everyone was dejected, it was the final international for a few of us, it was a very disappointing feeling mainly because we felt that we had the chance to win the game and go onto the final.”

The finals were a bitter-sweet experience for the centre-half that Wim Jansen had signed from West Ham in September 97.

Coca-Cola Cup Final 97

A combination of injuries eventually forced Rieper into retirement with his final Celtic appearance coming against Dunfermline just 13 months into his hoops career.

He admitted: “I knew that I had a few injury problems. I had a bad ankle, a bad toe and had problems with my back all the way through the World Cup.

“I came straight back from the World Cup to play for Celtic in Champions League qualifiers against St Pat’s and knew that I needed more surgery.

“I thought that a good break after the World Cup and an operation could get me playing at my usual level again but it wasn’t to be.”

Denmark come into the World Cup tomorrow against Holland and can be backed at 200/1 to win the tournament.

Veteran coach Morten Olsen isn’t spoiled for choice in his squad with Rieper delivering a brutal verdict on the class of 2010.

“I don’t think that we have one player who could get into the Dutch side,” he admitted. “That’s how much of an underdog we are but we are a team with spirit and that can cause an upset.

“Playing Holland is a good way to start the competition we have the chance to surprise everyone before the games against Cameroon and Japan.

“Holland will be a very difficult match, our team is struggling and has also suffered through injuries and maybe we don’t have the quality needed to do well in the World Cup

“It’s possible that we could get a draw from the match, everyone is behind the team but expectations aren’t high. The fans are hopeful of progressing to the next round but we know that we’re not as strong as we would like to be.”

The Danes have had to look on over the weekend waiting for their chance to step onto centre stage.

Injuries have been a feature for all teams in the build up to the World Cup with Holland sweating over the fitness of star man Arjen Robben.

The wait between the end of the domestic season and the start of the World Cup can be arduous with players dreading picking up an injury that could leave four years of preparations in ruins.

Scoring against Saudi Arabia

Keeping players engaged and interested as they wait for their matches to begin can be a major task on it’s own with Rieper a firm believer in the benefits of building a club-like bond amongst players scattered throughout Europe.

“The biggest strength that Denmark ever has is team spirit,” he added. “We don’t have the problems that teams like England have where Chelsea players, Manchester United and Liverpool players maybe don’t get on too well together.

“In Denmark we always had great companionship amongst the players. Myself and Morten were close to Brian Laudrup, we could talk about things even though he was disappointed and we were happy to have won the championship for Celtic.

“Waiting for a tournament to start is obviously tense, you want to prepare as well as possible, you want to find an extra two or three percent for your game but also to avoid injury in the build up.

“There’s always a risk of injury in football, if you try to avoid it in training then you are more likely to pick something up.

“In 98 we had a good balance in the build up. As well as training we played a lot of golf, did a bit of shopping and were allowed to spend an hour a day sunbathing once we got to France

“When you are together in a group for a long time it’s important to have time outside of football.

“In the build up to our first match we enjoyed watching the other games, it was great to watch my Celtic team mates playing against Brazil and they did well in the opener.

“My first match couldn’t have gone better, to score in my first ever World Cup match was a fairytale, I’ll never forget finding the net against Saudi Arabia.

“We knew that France were strong favourites to go through and that we were really in a mini-group with South Africa and Saudi Arabia to go qualify with France.

“When we got through the group to reach the last 16 we felt we had achieved our goal.

“No-one really fancied us to beat Nigeria but we did that comfortably, the game against Brazil was always going to be tough but we prepared properly and went into the match believing that we could win.

“By that stage of the competition anything is possible. Playing Brazil was a fantastic experience but we all wondered what would have happened if we had got through into the semi-finals.”

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