Denmark may be familiar faces at the senior FIFA Women's World Cup, with four already under their belt, but their last and only appearance at a youth equivalent came in the first-ever FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada six years ago. Nor did they succeed in making much of an impact, returning home after the group stage having been edged out by Japan and their Canadian hosts.
However, for all that the Danish women have often been positioned below Sweden and Norway in the Nordic pecking order, it was fitting that they should qualify for New Zealand 2008 exactly 10 years on from their finest achievement to date: winning the inaugural UEFA European Women's Under-18 Championship. Their road to New Zealand was not without its setbacks, but Bent Eriksen's side thoroughly merited their place at the world finals and were also able to end their qualifying campaign on a high with a bronze-winning 4-1 victory over England.
Not content with this achievement, however, the Danish Football Association (DBU) are actively pursuing an innovative grassroots development programme with the motto 'Lively Girls play Football'. While female participation rates are already high in the Scandinavian nation, the DBU are wooing a new generation with a fun, space-themed football programme known as 'the Girl Rocket', which every year attracts around 3,000 young girls across the country.
Goals, and plenty of them, were the key to Denmark's progression in the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship, with a tournament-record 24-0 win against Armenia and 6-0 victory over FYR. Macedonia enabling them to survive the first stage as one of the best-placed runners-up. Eriksen's side missed out on top spot due to a 4-0 defeat to France, a surprisingly emphatic reverse that cast doubt as to their ability to survive the second phase of qualifying.
A 0-0 draw with Finland in their opening Group 4 clash did nothing to alleviate such concerns, but the Danes bounced back to beat Iceland 4-2 before seeing off Russia 2-0 to edge the Fins on goal difference in claiming a place at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Their spot assured, Denmark moved on to the final stage alongside France, England and a German side that posed the most formidable of semi-final hurdles. Sure enough, the favourites and eventual winners prevailed by the game's only goal, but Eriksen's side rallied once again, coming from behind in the third-place match against England to claim bronze with a thumping 4-1 victory.
A schoolteacher by trade, Bent Eriksen enjoyed a respectable if largely unremarkable playing career in Denmark's lower leagues, turning out for both Randers Freja and Fjordbakken IF. It was with the former of these two clubs that the 53-year-old's coaching career began in 1984, and it was only after 11 years in that post that he moved to nearby Vorub FB in 1995. Within six years, Eriksen's work had earned him a job offer from the Danish Football Association (DBU), for whom he initially worked as assistant coach of the women's U-17 and U-19 sides before taking full charge of the U-17s in 2006.
Left-sided midfielder Katrine Veje shone during the final stage of European qualifying, bringing pace, power and impressive close control to the Danish attack. Further back, Britta Olsen was a rock alongside the similarly impressive Line Jensen at the heart of Eriksen's defence, while attacking midfielder Amanda Marie Hohol emerged as the team's principal goalscoring threat.
What they said...
"Our team reflects my opinion on the way football should be played, but in Denmark we are trying to always implement the same philosophy across all our national teams and we try to play the same way," Bent Eriksen, Denmark coach.
|16||Esther DAM SIMONSEN|
|3||Line SIGVARDSEN JENSEN|
|20||Nina FRAUSING PEDERSEN|
|11||Liv HAVGAARD NYHEGN|
|14||Laerke LILLELUND MICHAELSEN|
|17||Anne THIRUP RUDMOSE|