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It goes without saying that when the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship kicks off in Denmark in 100 days' time, Morten Olsen will be among the interested spectators.
The long-standing coach of Denmark's senior national side, Olsen will be watching eagerly to see whether the host country's youngsters can fulfil their potential on the biggest stage of their fledgling international careers. He has high hopes for the two-week event and not just from a Danish point of view, anticipating that the players from all eight participating nations will provide rich entertainment for the crowds in the four venues of Aarhus, Aalborg, Herning and Viborg.
Speaking to UEFA.com, Olsen said that while many of these talented tyros may not yet have acquired the experience to be able to perform at "a high level every day", they can certainly do so over the course of a short tournament. "If they are in form on the day, even if they are young players without so much experience, they can perform at a high level," he said.
Hosts Denmark will open the championship with a fixture against Group A rivals Switzerland on 11 June – the first of 16 matches of an event that concludes with the final in Aarhus a fortnight later. Denmark will be in Group A along with Belarus, Iceland and Switzerland, while Group B features Czech Republic, England, Spain and Ukraine.
The Danes lost their most recent warm-up game 2-1 to Spain in February and given that country's recent triumphs both on the senior stage and at junior level, the Spanish will rank among the pre-finals favourites with players such as 20-year-old Real Madrid CF midfielder Sergio Canales at their disposal.
Canales, for one, believes that Spain coach Luis Milla will have his squad in the right frame of mind to deliver in Denmark. "He motivates you very well, he is always close to you and gives you lots of confidence," said Canales. "I think that confidence is fundamental for a footballer, and that's what a coach should give to the team."
According to another coach preparing for the summer showcase, Ukraine's Pavlo Yakovenko, we can expect "a strong championship" in Denmark. Yakovenko's squad contains Serhiy Kryvtsov and Denys Garmash who helped Ukraine win the 2009 European U19 crown, yet the coach is circumspect about his side's prospects of adding another European title. "Of course, getting medals is great but to be in the finals is also a good achievement. I think any national team would give their all to get to the final stages of a European Championship, and to go further," he said.
Ukraine are one of two friendly opponents for Keld Bordinggaard's Denmark this month as the eight finalists step up their preparations for June. The Danes play England on 24 March in Viborg before tackling Ukraine four days later, as part of a number of friendlies this month pitting together U21 final teams; UEFA.com will carry reports on each one.
Denmark v England
France v Spain (for players born in or after 1990)
Ukraine v Iceland
Saudia Arabia's Olympic squad v Switzerland
Czech Republic v Belarus
Denmark v Ukraine
England v Iceland
Czech Republic v France
Spain v Belarus
Qatar's Olympic squad v Switzerland
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