NETHERLANDS: The Danish team that sent eight-time champions Germany packing in the women's Euro quarter-final is still under construction, aiming at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic, says coach Nils Nielsen.
"The truth is we are still developing this team," the man with a gold earring in his left ear told AFP ahead of Thursday's semi-final with Austria.
"We are trying to develop a team that can maybe not be as good as Germany and maybe not as good as France and all the other big teams, but maybe we can create a team that can stay up in the top and not have these ups and downs all the time."
Denmark was trailing Germany after three minutes last Sunday, but second-half headers from Nadia Nadim and Theresa Nielsen ended the superpower's dreams of a seventh straight title in a game postponed from Saturday because of rain.
Newcomers Austria beckons in the semi-final on Thursday, and Nielsen's memories of their last encounter are not the best as Denmark lost 4-2 in Wiener Neustadt less than a month ago.
"We played them just before the Euros and they killed us, to be honest, they were too strong, they were too fast for us, and they were going directly to our goal and we didn't like it at all," he said.
"So it's going to be a really tough match for us. We will definitely have a better plan for that match than we had for the other match but enough to beat Austria I don't know -- they've had an amazing tournament so far."
Building his team, the 45-year-old Nielsen needs "to be very patient and also make a mix of players, to give some young players the chance to play and still to have some more experienced players who can hold the team together when it's tough".
"And in this team, we have Pernille Harder and we have Simone Boye, they are really strong characters and they can really hold this team together when we are in trouble, also with Germany, they were keeping us in the game."
Formerly coaching Denmark's youths, Nielsen took the women's team over in 2013 with this long-term plan -- a challenge catering to his taste, as he said.
- fairytale ending -
"This group of players are meant to have a real go to make a qualification for the Olympics, that's the plan we had when we started this project four years ago."
"And we have to qualify for the World Cup and it's going to be really tough for us, just to qualify for the World Cup, so we have to find this self-confidence somewhere."
"So this is a big boost for us that we could actually beat Germany. Now the players start to think: OK, maybe we can even beat Sweden when we play them in the qualification" for the 2019 World Cup in France.
So far, he can be happy with the team spirit, an essential factor in his team's progress at the tournament where the Danes beat Norway and Belgium and lost to hosts the Netherlands in the group.
"We all help, everybody in the team is defending, everybody is attacking, nobody is bigger than anyone else."
Before the quarter-final, Nielsen said he wanted a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, and he has got one, but like the greedy characters in Andersen's books, he wants more now.
"I will say that in a fairytale there is always a happy ending and our happy ending would be a gold medal," he said.