The man who saved Denmark from an embarrassing defeat in Albania on Saturday had serious problems finding a team in the first division just over two years ago. The late equaliser to make it 1-1 was the first goal Lasse Vibe scored for his country, in only his third cap -- all of them as a substitute.
The 27-year-old striker is a late bloomer indeed, and he would certainly like 2014 to last forever. Written off at the beginning of his career, Vibe is suddenly enjoying a phenomenal year, scoring at will at IFK Goteborg, becoming an extremely popular character both in Denmark and across the strait in Sweden, and looking forward to the most significant transfer of his life in January. Quite a few English clubs are reportedly closely watching his progress, as are the likes of St Etienne and Hertha Berlin.
Such a scenario looked impossible in 2008, when Vibe was forced to leave his home club AFG Aarhus in order to get some playing time. He was the captain of the reserve team, but couldn't break into the first squad, and sports director Brian Steen Nielsen said, "Lasse has a lot of qualities, but we are well equipped in his position." So he moved to the second division, first to Fyn and then to Vestsjaelland.
Ove Pedersen, the experienced coach who worked with him at the latter, spotted the talent and made significant effort to find him a team Danish Superliga in the beginning of 2012, but it was a tough task. Finally it was the unfashionable SonderjyskE who took a gamble on the striker, and they were not disappointed. Vibe proved himself to be a dedicated team player, netting 13 goals in the 2012-13 season. Remarkably, all but one of them resulted in SonderjyskE wins.
That's when Aarhus started to understand that they might have made a significant mistake. They made a huge effort to sign Vibe, a die-hard fan, in the summer of 2013, but it was too late -- the striker got a more lucrative offer from Goteborg. That proved to be a costly miss for AGF, who were eventually relegated with toothless attack.
Fans in Denmark tend to see a move to the neighbouring Swedish league as a step backwards, but that certainly wasn't the case with Vibe. After Goteborg sold club hero Tobias Hysen to Shanghai Dongya in China in the winter, coach Mikael Stahre moved the Dane into his position as central striker and built the team's attacking play around him. The effect was absolutely breathtaking.
Vibe is lightning fast, makes great runs off the ball, possesses a good first touch, knows how to be in the right place at the right time, can be dangerous with both feet and is a calm and confident finisher in front of goal. His style perfectly suits the swift counter attacking football of Goteborg, and the Dane simply can't stop scoring. He netted no fewer than three hat-tricks, and overall got 20 goals in 23 league games so far.
Nobody has scored that much for the club since the the legendary Torbjorn Nilsson found the net 20 times in 1981 season. With three matches left in the season, Lasse could even break the Swedish record, the one that belongs to Bertil Johansson, another Goteborg legend, who scored 27 times in 1957-58 -- and he needed 32 games to do so.
Not only is he a phenomenal footballer by local standards, Vibe is also an endearing personality. He learned Swedish within a couple of months, and is always open and friendly with fans and journalists, returning the calls and answering all the messages. "Lasse is definitely the biggest hero for Goteborg supporters. They would even prefer him to Hysen now," says Johan Rylander of Goteborgs Posten. "Vibe is one of the smartest players in the league," claims Michael Wagner of Aftonbladet. There's little wonder that he is finishing studies for a degree in economics at Copenhagen University.
It could be Goteborg who are counting the money pretty soon, though. Vibe's contract with the club runs until 2016, and they won't let him go cheaply, putting a 20 million krona (2.2 million euro) price tag on their star. Back in 2013, Vibe dreamed of playing in Holland, but, according to the player himself, some Eredivisie clubs considered him to be too old. He has proved them to be wrong, and a much better opportunity probably awaits him just around the corner.
Such was Vibe's form that national team coach Morten Olsen simply couldn't ignore him, even though he has long been criticised in Denmark for preferring Copenhagen players to those from Jutland. The striker made his debut in a friendly versus Turkey in September, and just a few days later he proved to be very important at the start of Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Denmark were trailing 1-0 at home to Armenia, the very team that humiliated them 4-0 in the World Cup qualifying game a year ago. Another disaster was on the cards, but Olsen sent Vibe on with 34 minutes to go, and the tactical change worked perfectly. Lasse completely changed the momentum, and the hosts came from behind to claim a 2-1 win.
On Saturday, Olsen was in trouble again, with Denmark being outplayed in Tirana, and yet again Vibe proved to be an inspired substitution. He might have missed a couple of good chances, but the goal he scored after good work from Nicklas Bendtner in the box was invaluable. Now the whole country is waiting for him to start in the crucial game against Portugal on Tuesday.
"Lasse made a great impact in both of the previous games, and he deserves to be in the starting linuep. Just about a year ago nobody really knew him, but following his success in Sweden and a good showing for the national team, his name is on everyone's lips", says Michael Qureshi of BT newspaper.
Vibe's full debut could thus be versus Cristiano Ronaldo, and he will not be shy of confidence. He has achieved so much against the odds that sky is the limit for him right now.