After missing out on Denmark's UEFA Women's EURO party four years ago, Mariann Gajhede Knudsen is rapidly making up for lost time.
Exhibiting the twin values of sound tactical judgement and impeccable ball retention, Kenneth Heiner-Møller's charges poured scorn on their underdog status to record an eye-catching 1-1 draw with the hosts in Monday's Group A showdown. Their joy in Gothenburg may have been short-lived, yet Knudsen, whose first-half opener was wiped out by Linköpings FC club-mate Nilla Fischer nine minutes later, is still enjoying the afterglow of a prodigious occasion.
"We started really well; it was a first good game," said the 28-year-old defender, a veteran of ten years of international football. "We had a lot of possession and our tactics worked. It's been really fun, the atmosphere in the first game was special and the crowd and the people there gave us a really amazing experience. It's been a while since I was at a final tournament because I missed the EUROs in Finland, so I'm just happy to be here."
Locked on points with Saturday's opponents Italy, Knudsen refused to be drawn on the importance of victory in Halmstad, preferring to cast a studious eye on the bigger picture. "It's difficult to say if it's a must-win because it depends how the match evolves. If we are behind and equalise in the last minute then we'll probably be happy with a draw, but we hope to win and we'll do everything we can to do so," the centre-back told UEFA.com.
Facing Sweden, there was an overriding sense of familiarity as Knudsen pitted her wits against a litany of players with whom she shares a domestic league. Italy are, comparatively speaking, an unknown quality, yet Denmark are no less confident of meeting their targets.
"We have spoken about Italy," she said. "Of course, I play in Sweden and so do pretty much all of the players, so our knowledge of them was much greater than it is of Italy. However, we have met some Italian teams in the Champions League, so some of the individual players we know. They haven't played as many warm-up games as us so we know something, but we don't know everything. We'll be prepared."
The confidence exuded by ebullient coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller as he addressed media inquisitors in Halmstad permeates through the squad. And although the old adage of 'taking each game as it comes' passed Knudsen's lips, there is no doubt that Denmark share Italy's hunger to win.
"We hope and also believe that we can qualify for the quarters," added Knudsen with infectious enthusiasm. "After that, it depends who we come up against, but everyone in the squad is confident of going further, starting tomorrow with Italy."
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