Nicklas Bendtner shook his head in frustration when the name of Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov was mentioned after Denmark's 2-1 defeat on Monday. The 18-year-old striker has grown accustomed to celebrating goals this season; in Agueda, for once, it was the goalkeeper who came out on top. "After we scored our goal there was no passing him for the rest of the game," Bendtner told uefa.com. "We shot from everywhere, we had chances but he was quick on the line. He was good, always in the right place, and that's the main reason we didn't go through."
Bendtner was angry with himself for not taking a number of chances on the night, but when he comes to reflect on his experiences in Portugal, he will surely realise this was one opportunity he did not miss. The Arsenal FC youngster is tall and powerful. At 1.90m, he provided a focus for the Denmark attack throughout the tournament and unsettled defences in the air. But he is far from restricted to the aerial game. Playing alone up front, his intelligent passing enticed midfield colleagues into attacking positions and his neat touches often worked space where there appeared none.
It was easy to forget Bendtner had only made his Under-21 debut a week before Denmark's opening match against Italy - the same evening, incidentally, that Arsenal took on FC Barcelona in Paris. Or that he was the second-youngest player at this championship. Bendtner, though, sets himself high standards. "Everything has been good, but as a striker when you go three games without scoring a goal you feel you should have done better," he said.
Playing at this level is not all about winning and Bendtner believes he will leave Portugal a better player. "I confirmed I'm able to play against some of the best teams in Europe such as Italy and Holland," he said. "I've learned a lot from my team-mates and I've gained experience and the belief to succeed." There was certainly no hint of stage fright on his competitive debut against Italy in Aveiro. An impudent backheel early on brought a cheer from the Danish supporters and showed Bendtner was happy to take on the experienced Italians at their own game. "I don't really care about age," he said. "It doesn't concern me. I've always been confident in the way I play."
That confidence was clear last term when he registered 18 goals in 22 starts for the Arsenal reserves. He appeared three times for the first team as a substitute in the English League Cup and hopes to build on that next season. "I have to return to Arsenal and see if I can break through into the first team," the former FC København player said. "But I will take things slowly and see how it goes." He is happy to bide his time when there is a certain Thierry Henry to teach him his trade. "Thierry is a great player, as we all know, so it's good for the club he has stayed," Bendtner said. "He helps me and all the young players."
Bendtner is part of an exciting new generation coming through for Denmark with Thomas Kahlenberg and Rasmus Würtz also catching the eye. Former Danish international Jan Mølby has been impressed by the manner Bendtner has stepped up from the U19s. "I think he is the one we are hanging our hopes on," Mølby said. "We think he is possibly ready for our full squad. I think he is going to be a sensational player for the future." Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger would not have it any other way.
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