The Danish under-19 football team faces their first real test when they travel to Portugal next month to attempt to qualify for the European Championships in Lithuania later this year.
It will be the first time that Denmark’s most promising generation of players tries to qualify for a major tournament after enjoying resounding successes at the under-17 level.
Last November, the ‘94 generation – players must have been born after 1 January 1994 – swept the competition in the initial qualifying group that consisted of Cyprus, Montenegro and Finland, but in order to progress from the elite round of qualification they will have to bring their best game.
Denmark is in Group 3, together with hosts Portugal, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, and only the winner of the group progresses to the final tournament. Head coach Thomas Frank believes his side is capable of moving on. And it won’t be an easy three games as the group is one of the toughest, but the Danes will be playing with the added pressure of seeking to become the country’s first U-19 squad to reach a major tournament in 12 years.
“Naturally, we enter these three games with the belief and knowledge that we can qualify for the Euro, and while we may not have to win all three games, we will likely need at least seven points to win the group,” Frank said in a press release. “As it stands, Portugal and the Czech Republic are our toughest opponents.”
The Danes start their elite round campaign against the Czechs on June 4, before facing Bulgaria on June 6 and Portugal on June 9. Preparations, though, will begin on May 30 when they face Germany in a friendly at Brøndby Stadium.
“The margin for error is incredibly thin, but I know that we have the ability to play alongside the best and I know that the boys can translate their undeniable talent into results on the pitch,” Frank said. “A Euro would be fantastic for the players and Danish football in general and it will positively affect the boys’ development.”
Frank may be missing the best player of the generation, Viktor Fischer, who has had a stellar year for Ajax Amsterdam and has already been moved up to the senior national team, but there is no denying the quality of the remaining squad.
Pierre Emil Højbjerg recently made his debut for Champions League winners Bayern Munich. Lucas Andersen is now playing for Ajax Amsterdam, while Patrick Olsen was on the bench in two of Inter Milan’s final games of the season. Christian Nørgaard is expected to debut for Hamburger SV next season and defender Andreas Christensen, who turned 17 in April, made his debut for Chelsea in a friendly last week against Manchester City.
While the other players may be lacking experience against top-flight teams, they bring with them plenty of minutes from the domestic leagues. Just about every single player enjoyed playing time with their respective Danish clubs this season. Some, such as Frederik Holst and Patrick Da Silva, both played significant minutes for Brøndby. Yussuf Poulsen scored 11 goals for Lyngby in Division One.
But one of the team’s greatest strengths is continuity. Many of the players have represented Denmark together numerous times at the youth level – 13 out of the 18 were on the under-17 team that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2011 and went to the World Cup in Mexico later that year. Fourteen out of the 18 have played over 30 games for Denmark at the youth level and many of them have been playing at the under-19 level for several years because of their talent.
No doubt, these lads are very familiar with each other, but their coach is no stranger either. Before taking over the under-19 reins, Frank coached the under-17 side and was the mastermind behind the recent success.
Frank is an element of the highly successful ‘Den Røde Tråd’ (the common thread) coaching system set-up that DBU has implemented under national team coach Morten Olsen. It is a philosophy that sees the youth teams, from the under-15s on up, all play the same style as the national team. Doing so generates continuity and familiarity when the young players move up the age groups.
The system, which was implemented in 2005, has begun to pay dividends for Olsen and a number of young stars, like Viktor Fischer, Jores Okore and Christian Eriksen, have been able to make a seamless transition to the full national team despite their inexperience.
While Danes might have the reputation, the experience and the system to keep the national side running strong, none of that will matter if Frank’s lads don’t get out of Portugal alive next week.