Women's football team comes of age

The future looks promising for the under-19 women's football team heading into the bronze medal match in this year's European Championship

Only one of the teams in this year's UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship semi-finals had not reached that stage last year - Denmark. In fact, Denmark had not even qualified to be among the top four teams in the playoffs since 2002. But this year, the girls are back, and better than ever.

As in 2002, the young Danes were shut out of this year's contest by the French team who were runner's up in 2005. But it seems unlikely that the young Danish women will have to wait until 2010 to take another crack at the title, given their excellent performance in this year's tournament in Switzerland. Most of the team will be eligible for play again next year.

The makeup of this year's Danish team was a deliberate tactic by the Danish Football Association, said Henrik Lehm, the talent development officer and coach of the U-19 team.

'They are very young - only six were born in 1987. I have 12 of these girls again next year, so we are going the right way in Denmark,' he said. 'Our 1988 generation was a very good group, so two years ago we put them up to U-19 and now they have earned many caps.'

The tournament, which is played every year in a different host country, starts with 10 groups of four teams in each qualifying round and whittles its way down to the top two over two months.

Coming from behind, the Danish team trumped Belgium 2-1 in their tournament opener. It then bounced back from a 2-0 loss to Germany and a number of injuries, including a broken toe suffered by its captain, to tie neighbouring arch rivals Sweden, 0-0. In their semi-final game against France, Les Bleus squeaked a goal past the Danes in the 70th minute of a game that could have gone either way, reported uefa.com's newswire.

Nevertheless, Lehm is happy with the team's results that solidify the women's up-and-coming status on the European scene.

'In a small country like Denmark we often have good players, but not in every position - I think this team is different,' said Lehm. 'I think my two centre-backs are fabulous. I think my back line is the best in Europe. Other teams have better players in other positions, but I think that will come for us too.'

The team will meet Russia, last year's winners, in the bronze medal match this weekend.

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