In a small press conference room at De Vijveberg in Doetinchem, Denmark head coach Nils Nielsen walks onto the empty stage and immediately begins to joke with the reporters, the diminutive Greenlander suggesting he’d rather stand to look tall, the microphone at a perfect height as it is. He’s shortly joined by his co-captain, Linköping centre-back Janni Arnth and Montpellier new girl, Katrine Veje the mischievous winger on the cusp of breaking out in a full-grin throughout the presser.
Stop if you think you've heard it before
The usual questions pass by, the Belgians curious of what the Danes know of them, who they consider their biggest threats, a theme carried by the Danish media, Tessa Wullaert mentioned more than once. Arnth who will be one of the ones tasked with keeping the wide Wolfsburg attacker and Tielt native under wraps happy to point out that the eleven Danes on the pitch won’t just be facing Wullaert but rather a whole side with various players and weapons who can hurt them.
Nielsen echoes his defender, noting that they possess a big threat at set-pieces as well, the two sides more than a little familiar with each other having squared off twice last year. The spoils shared over 2016, Belgium taking first blood at the Algarve Cup before Denmark levelled the playing field in Tubize on a cold night last November, the teams taking their turns to edge each other.
There is a subtle surprised murmur from the press when Nielsen says he thinks six points will be enough for a team to reach the quarter-finals, Group A the most intriguing of the four, each team well capable of poaching points from one another. A win in the first game a boost as the team would have two more shots at finding a second win and passage through to the knock-outs.
The words of the coach and his pair of players before the floor was opened up was of excitement and preparation, “looking forward” to the tournament for a long time, neither coach nor players can wait to get stuck in and sink their teeth into the tournament. The words repeated by Arnth and Veje when I asked about their last friendly before travelling to Holland.
“En dårlig generalprøve giver en god premiere.”
A well-known Danish saying that says a bad dress rehearsal lends to a solid first performance, Veje chuckles when it’s mentioned, the team unwilling to sugarcoat the obvious but Arnth admits the team “haven’t talked a lot about that game.” Happy to forget it and move on, they have bigger fish (waffles?) to fry tomorrow night, the team “ready and happy” after training well.
“They didn’t train the next day, they went into the sea to wash off the defeat.” Nielsen is candid after the official conference is over, he remains painfully honest about the performance or lack thereof in Austria, his thoughts at half-time of substitutions as he asked himself if he should change the whole team but there were positives to be taken from a performance that was inarguably the worst of his tenure.
Both Nadia Nadim and Theresa Nielsen played the full 90 minutes, two regular starters who had been absent for Denmark’s narrow loss to England the week prior. Whilst neither were at their effervescent best, Nielsen particularly guilty of looking off the pace, the time on the pitch in Wiener Neustadt was huge for the two players and their coach knew he couldn’t sub them out when they needed to remind themselves of what it felt like to play in rød og hvid.
Not a man to mince his words, Nielsen was blunt and unpublishable when we spoke but the smile never left his face, reasoning that it simply isn’t possible for Denmark to play so badly two games on the spin, his team guilty of a truly bad day at the office but nothing more. A team that had shown versatility during this year’s Algarve Cup, their resilient core enough to see them battle to the last against a dominant Australia team before scooping bronze on penalties, one bad result not enough to define a side so strong.