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As the snow fell in Aalborg during November's draw for the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals, you would have been forgiven for feeling next summer's tournament was a long way off. Speak to Denmark U21 coach Keld Bordinggaard, though, and you get the sense kick-off on 11 June is just around the corner.
With host Denmark's opponents – Iceland, Belarus and Switzerland in Group A – now known, Bordinggaard can begin focusing on the tournament itself and his anticipation is growing. "I'm not sure everybody is aware of the greatness of this tournament yet, but it has grown tremendously over the last four, five years, in quality," he told UEFA.com. "
You see more and more young players coming through earlier, with more skills now and the level of these championships are very high."
That was fully evident last summer when the core of Germany's 2009 UEFA European U21 Championship-winning team – Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira and Manuel Neuer among others – made such an impression at the FIFA World Cup.
Germany's U21s may have triumphed on Swedish soil in 2009, yet hosts Sweden also thrilled a nation en route to the semi-finals. Bordinggaard hopes his side will be carried on a similar wave of enthusiasm this time round. "I think I can see a growing awareness of this tournament here," he said. "We hope to give Denmark a great performance next summer. We saw last summer what Sweden did. We want to try and do the same here."
Playing at home, however, has its downsides too: Denmark had no involvement in the demanding qualifying campaign, leaving Bordinggaard to find other ways of ensuring his team retain their competitive edge.
"That was a problem we had to address right from the beginning," he said. "Not being part of qualifying means we have lacked those games where we need to play 100% for the result. But luckily we were invited to the Toulon football festival last summer where we had the opportunity to play in a tournament similar to the championship and that helped us a lot."
Denmark beat Russia and hosts France to get to the final, which they narrowly lost to the Ivory Coast. That experience was another important step towards the ultimate goal of U21 football – the senior team. To that end, Bordinggaard works closely with Denmark's head coach Morten Olsen and already the fruits of their cooperation are clear with the likes of Christian Eriksen, Simon Kjær and Mathias Zanka Jørgensen happily representing either side.
"Way back in 2006 we tried to create a clear path into the A national team and I have been supporting that," Bordinggaard said. "I have used the same ideas in my work and it helps the players when they step up to Morten. We have seen it is possible now to bring players into the A team at an earlier age. Hopefully that will help us next summer as well to have that experience in the team."
Denmark did not have to look far to see the excitement this competition can generate. Neighbours Sweden played to packed houses in 2009 and two years before the Netherlands sparkled on home territory as they lifted the trophy for the second time.
Having witnessed full stadiums resplendent in Swedish yellow and Dutch orange during both of those colourful tournaments, Bordinggaard is confident Denmark will put on a show, on and off the pitch. "
We need that extra thing the crowd can give us, that's for sure. It is no coincidence that hosting countries have done a good job in earlier years. We expect and hope to do the same."
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