By Pete Sanderson in Preston
The curtain may have come down on Denmark's UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ campaign, but not even a painful defeat by rank outsiders Finland could stop coach Peter Bonde putting on another engaging performance for the media as he bid farewell to the tournament.
Bonde was visibly shaken by his side's "invisible" display in the 2-1 loss to Finland which left their dreams of a last-four place in tatters and many of his squad fighting back the tears. "It was like a tennis match, we had match point going into this game and we blew it," he told uefa.com.
The Danes began well. An opening-day draw with Sweden was swiftly followed by an enthralling victory against hosts England, leaving them top of Group A and in control of their destiny with one match remaining. But an uncharacteristically nervous performance in their final pool game with the Finns meant Bonde's side left the tournament with a whimper rather than a bang.
"We were invisible and never really got into the game," Bonde said. "It wasn't because of our lack of will, but simply because the players were too nervous.
I am close to being dead - this is a huge disappointment. Our basic success criteria was to get from the group, so if you look at it that way, we have not achieved what we came for."
The Danish press agreed with Bonde, citing nerves as the principle reason for their exit. Until the Finland fixture, Denmark had looked capable of giving any team a run for their money, with their seemingly superior fitness and clinical finishing a telling factor in their opening two matches.
The charismatic Bonde, Morten Olsen's assistant at UEFA EURO 2004™, had also instilled his side with tremendous belief since his appointment in March - and their displays not only captured the eye of neutrals in England, but also caused a stir back home.
Bonde even revealed he was in constant contact with Olsen's coaching team at Denmark's FIFA World Cup qualifier with Albania on Wednesday, which was being played at exactly the same time as the women's triumph against England.
I was in contact with Morten and the team all the way through the England game because we were having a competition to see who could win by the most goals," he told uefa.com. "He thought he had won when they went 3-0 up but when we got the two goals I phoned him and said 'listen to that'. He said 'I can't hear anything'. I said 'exactly - that's the England fans'. He laughed!"
The England result further fuelled expectations back home making their painful exit even harder to swallow. But the women's game remains in good hands with the Danish Football Association (DBU) continuing to give the sport high priority.
"We are going to evaluate this thoroughly and find out what went well and what went wrong, and then we will decide how to work in future," said Erik Hjort, chairman of the DBU's section for women's football.
World Cup bid
Such a policy should give the team the best possible conditions for their assault on the FIFA Women's World Cup, where Finland await in their qualifying group along with Spain, Poland and Belgium. If this tournament is anything to go by, Denmark will be laughing all the way to the finals so long as Bonde stays at the helm.
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