History shows Danes can climb mountain

Hosts Denmark may have begun with defeat against Switzerland but history lends hope, with three of the past five Under-21 champions having lost their first game.

Nicki Bille Nielsen celebrates a goal against Switzerland that was later disallowed
Nicki Bille Nielsen celebrates a goal against Switzerland that was later disallowed ©Action Images

"A little mountain to climb" is how Denmark defender Mathias Zanka Jørgensen described the task facing the host team after their opening defeat by Switzerland.

When prompted, he was too young to remember that Denmark's greatest success on the international stage – their EURO '92 triumph – came despite a return of one point and no goals from their first two games.

The recent history of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship also offers hope for Denmark and the other sides smarting from first-day stumbles, Iceland and Ukraine. After all, three times in the previous five tournaments a team have lost their opening match yet recovered to win the tournament.

In 2006, the Netherlands started with a 2-1 loss to group rivals Ukraine, but were emphatic 3-0 victors when the countries later reconvened in the final. A similar thing happened in 2002 when the Czech Republic succumbed 2-0 to France on matchday one, only to prevail against Les Bleuets on penalties in the deciding game. In between, Italy were 2004 champions after bouncing back from an opening 2-1 reverse to Belarus.

If that provides a warning for this year's Belarus side, who lead Group A after their curtain-raising win over Iceland and face the Danes on Tuesday, there are other cases in the past decade of first-day victories proving false dawns. Germany beat Serbia in 2006 yet ended up eliminated in a three-way tie of teams on three points – with the Serbians actually the ones to advance. Germany in 2004, and England and Belgium in 2002 also failed to build on perfect starts.

Footballers worldwide are adept at repeating the mantra of playing one game at a time and Keld Bordinggaard's young Danes certainly need no telling that hope remains. As the home coach said on Saturday: "The mood in the locker room is that there is so much football left for us to play in this championship."