BAVEL, Netherlands, Aug 2, (AFP): The Danish team that sent eight-time champions Germany packing in the women’s Euro quarter-final is still under construction, aiming at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, says coach Nils Nielsen.
“The truth is we are still developing this team,” the man with a gold earring in his left ear told AFP ahead of Thursday’s semifinal with Austria.
“We are trying to develop a team that can maybe not be as good as Germany and maybe not as good as France and all the other big teams, but maybe we can create a team that can stay up in the top and not have these ups and downs all the time.”
Denmark were trailing Germany after three minutes last Sunday, but second-half headers from Nadia Nadim and Theresa Nielsen ended the superpower’s dreams of a seventh straight title in a game postponed from Saturday because of rain.
Newcomers Austria beckon in the semifinal on Thursday, and Nielsen’s memories of their last encounter are not the best as Denmark lost 4-2 in Wiener Neustadt less than a month ago.
“We played them just before the Euros and they killed us, to be honest, they were too strong, they were too fast for us, and they were going directly at our goal and we didn’t like it at all,” he said.
“So it’s going to be a really tough match for us. We will definitely have a better plan for that match than we had for the other match but enough to beat Austria I don’t know — they’ve had an amazing tournament so far.”
Building his team, the 45-year-old Nielsen needs “to be very patient and also make a mix of players, to give some young players the chance to play and still to have some more experienced players who can hold the team together when it’s tough”.
“And in this team we have Pernille Harder and we have Simone Boye, they are really strong characters and they can really hold this team together when we are in trouble, also with Germany, they were keeping us in the game.”
Formerly coaching Denmark’s youths, Nielsen took the women’s team over in 2013 with this long-term plan — a challenge catering to his taste, as he said.
“This group of players are meant to have a real go to make a qualification for the Olympics, that’s the plan we had when we started this project four years ago.”
“And we have to qualify through the World Cup and it’s going to be really tough for us, just to qualify for the World Cup, so we have to find this self-confidence somewhere.”
“So this is a big boost for us that we could actually beat Germany. Now the players start to think: OK, maybe we can even beat Sweden when we play them in the qualification” for the 2019 World Cup in France.
So far, he can be happy with the team spirit, an essential factor in his team’s progress at the tournament where the Danes beat Norway and Belgium and lost to hosts the Netherlands in the group.
“We all help, everybody in the team is defending, everybody is attacking, nobody is bigger than anyone else.”
Before the quarter-final, Nielsen said he wanted a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, and he has got one, but like the greedy characters in Andersen’s books, he wants more now.
“I will say that in a fairytale there is always a happy ending and our happy ending would be a gold medal,” he said.
An equestrian rider as a child, Millie Bright opted for football before becoming the rock of England’s back four at the women’s Euro in the Netherlands.
Her hard tackling style has helped England to three clean sheets in four games so far with the Lionesses’ eyes on a historic success as they get ready for a semifinal against the hosts.
“It shows how far we’ve come as a unit, as a back four, and as a squad as well,” says the 23-year-old Chelsea defender.
England thrashed Scotland and cruised past Spain before sinking Portugal with a much-changed team and edging France 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
“They’ve all been pretty equal to be fair, but each opponent brings different threats and obviously France were a top team, we knew they were going to bring threats,” said Bright.
“We stayed tight as a unit and defended when we needed to defend.
“If you can do that it shows you can compete with the best and you can keep a clean sheet against top opponents.”
Playing her first major international tournament, Bright, who has teamed up with skipper Steph Houghton at the back, prefers a tough, no-nonsense style.
“I think positioning is your main base to start with and then everything else just falls into place, but I try not to overthink it,” she said.
“I just go into the game and just give myself a couple of points and then just go off those because if you give yourself too much thinking about then that’s where the mistakes start coming in so I’m trying to keep it very basic.
“When I get in there I want to win my battles and I never hesitate to go in for a challenge.
“I try and play with no fear at all, just making sure that if I stick to what I know I can do, then everything else will fall into place.”
“You have to make the strikers almost fear you and make it difficult for them to get on the ball and make them want to go into different areas,” said Bright, who looks up to Chelsea star John Terry.
“He’s been a massive defender for me, and obviously he’s a rock and he’s really good at doing his one-on-one defending and really reading the game. I’ve watched a lot of his clips.”
Bright did equestrian until age nine, when she decided to concentrate on football in her home city of Sheffield.
“We got to the point where I had to put my all into either one and obviously I can go back to equestrian when I’m retired,” said Bright, who enjoys considerable family support at the tournament, including from grandad Arthur.
“He’s the guy I go to for football talk, he gives me an honest opinion on the game and on my performance,” she said.
“I really respect him for that, and I think that’s really helped develop me as a player and a person, to be honest with myself.
“He’s just as competitive as me and he wants me to succeed.”
The former miner will be in the stands on Thursday when England face the Netherlands in Enschede, watching Bright take on the potent Dutch attack led by young gun Vivianne Miedema.
“She’s a big threat, obviously we’ve watched her previous games at the tournament,” said Bright.
“We’ll just focus on ourselves and make sure we stick to our game plan and then hopefully that should not be a worry.”
Bright added she expected a “very tough game”.
“They’re very attacking-minded, they get around the pitch well, so we’re looking for a very high-paced game, but I think we’ve shown that we can play both types of game.
“They’re not afraid of a challenge, a very strong team, looking to get the ball forward. It’ll be an interesting game.”