Headmaster Eriksen's final fling
© Foto-net

For the vast majority of coaches here in the South Pacific, New Zealand 2008 represents their first experience of a FIFA finals. For Bent Eriksen, it will also be his last.

The Denmark coach is to leave his post at the end of the tournament and, ironically, it is this competition's inception - and the development of U-17 women's football in general - that has effectively cost the 54-year-old his job. Not that Eriksen's association are anxious to be rid of him. The DBU would love nothing more than to retain the services of their respected youth coach - they have simply found it impossible to prise him from his job as a school headmaster.

As Eriksen explained to FIFA.com: "I've been working at my school all along, combining it with this job part-time for the DBU. But now the association want to have a full-time coach and unfortunately I can't commit to that. It's sad, and I'll miss the team of course, but I would miss being a teacher too much to give that up."

There is also no chance of a change of heart, with a successor, Anders With Damgaard - ironically, a former teacher - having already been appointed. Indeed, Eriksen was only kept on for New Zealand as a gesture of goodwill and gratitude for his efforts in leading the Danes through the European preliminaries - and to give him the chance of one last hurrah Down Under. That, certainly, is the aim of a group of players for whom the former Randers star has been something of a father figure.

"It's up to us," said midfielder Katrine Veje. We're all disappointed that he's leaving but we have the chance to make sure that his final experience with us is very special. He's been a great coach for us and I will miss him so much."

Simone Boye, another of Denmark's promising youngsters whose development Eriksen has overseen, believes only a podium position will do their coach justice. "It would be cool if we could keep him with us for a little longer by going a long way in this tournament," she said. "We need to aim to come home with a medal. I think that's possible."

They may be focused on the prize, but unsurprisingly for a team coached by a headmaster, Denmark have not been allowed to chase glory in New Zealand at the expense their schoolwork. Instead, they have been receiving daily lessons from yet another teacher on the DBU's staff: the team's Head of Delegation, Diana Andersen.

"That's right, there's no escape from teachers with this team!" Anderson laughed. "Back home I only teach two subjects, whereas here it's almost every subject. But it's fun and the girls' attitude has been so good. And it's also helped that we haven't just brought in a teacher from outside, because myself and all the staff here know that schoolwork isn't the most important thing: the football must always take priority."

Top priority for Eriksen and his players now is Tuesday's match against Canada, the winners of which will guarantee pole position in Group A and likely avoid an imposing quarter-final showdown with European champions Germany. "We are number one in the group and we want to stay there," declared Eriksen. "This game against Canada is massive for us."