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Denmark's run to the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 semi-finals in Sweden has drawn plenty of comparisons to the men's team that triumphed against the odds at EURO '92.
Just like then, Denmark thought they were out after finishing third in their group on two points, only to prevail in the drawing of lots with Russia. Grasping this lifeline, they subsequently overcame much-favoured France on penalties to earn a semi-final encounter with Norway in Norrkoping.
UEFA.com spoke to the penalty-saving hero of their run, Stina Petersen, and the player that scored the opening goal of the tournament when they held Sweden 1-1, Mariann Gajhede Knudsen – who along with team-mate Pernille Harder plays her club football for Linköpings FC, whose home was the venue of their most recent feat.
UEFA.com: You have played Norway many times, what are their strengths?
Stina Petersen: They fight, support each other and they only need one chance to score, so we have to be 100% in every tackle and make sure we pass with accuracy.
Mariann Gajhede Knudsen: I think they have a championship gene, or something. They have been very good in this tournament. They have a great blend of youth and experience. They have a strong defence and some unpredictable players up front that can hurt any defence.
UEFA.com: Did you expect to still be in the tournament now?
Petersen: Our goal was to progress from the group stage, and after we did that we chose new goals. I dreamt of playing in the semi-finals and now I hope the fairytale continues.
Gajhede: You dream and you hope. But expect it? No, I wouldn't say that.
UEFA.com: How has it happened?
Petersen: Because this team has what we like to call the X-factor. We support each other, we train hard and have a good team of coaches. We needed that bit of luck in the draw and now we are fighting on the field.
Gajhede: I don't think we have ever been this prepared. For the last seven or eight months we have been preparing for this tournament. We have been together more than ever before and all the players have worked hard at their clubs to ensure they are physically prepared.
UEFA.com: How did you enjoy the opening draw with Sweden?
Petersen: It's the best game of my career because of the intensity surrounding it and the Sweden crowd. And we had a lot of Danish fans there and it was the opening match and yes, I saved two penalties. I didn't expect that, but it was amazing and I still smile when I think of that game.
Gajhede: The crowd were amazing, we had a lot of Swedes against us but we had a lot of Danes there, who cheered us on. We had been looking forward to that game for months and it was an amazing experience.
UEFA.com: When you drew with Finland, did you think you were out, and what did you do to wait for the drawing of lots?
Petersen: I lived in hope because I really wanted to progress. I was disappointed that we didn't win but I was still hoping that we could make it through to the quarter-finals.
Gajhede: Yes, I thought we were out. Some went shopping and some played golf. We just rested. The next day we started preparing, hoping that we would win the draw, so long as the results went our way [England and Russia both losing]. It turned out in our favour.
UEFA.com: Describe the moment when Denmark was drawn out to stay in?
Petersen: We were all together in our team room trying to watch the draw live, but we couldn't because it was a bit behind. Then our coach called one of the other leaders and he was like: "Oh, [Karen Espelund]'s stepped onto the stage. Now she's picking up the thing and now she's trying to open it". And then: "It says Denmark," and we all went crazy and it was exciting. It was wild.
Gajhede: I don't know if you've seen the clip, but everyone was screaming and very excited. It was a strange moment. We were just excited, happy, all of us.
UEFA.com: Talk us through the game against France?
Gajhede: I think it's the best experience ever. We came into the match as underdogs and played very well. They were the better team but we held out. Then we had the confidence and determination to win on penalties.
Petersen: We were under a lot pressure but you forget that when you win. It was just amazing. I have saved my shirt, I haven't washed it, I'm saving it for the rest of my life. It was an amazing game and I'm just so happy that we made it through.
UEFA.com: Stina, you had the best view of Janni Arnth's winning penalty...
Petersen: It was actually difficult for me to see because I was standing to the side. I was so excited when Janni stuck it away. We were so happy and the celebrations were incredible.
When I made the first save everyone thought I was pointing at [Louisa] Necib but I was actually pointing towards the bench, saying to the players: 'Come on, we can do this, work with us, come on.' We have great team spirit.
UEFA.com: Mariann, what did it mean to you and Pernille to do it in Linkoping, in your club stadium?
Gajhede: That was amazing. We felt the crowd were with us, at least with me and Pernille. When we talked about afterwards, we said that anything can happen at that stadium. All the [Linköping] players were there and they borrowed some of our jerseys. They all said that they were the ones who encouraged the crowd to scream.
UEFA.com: Stina, when did you know you would be first-choice goalkeeper for the finals after Heidi Johansen's injury?
Petersen: I didn't know that before he put the roster up. I was working hard in training to prove myself. I've been working to improve for a year now and I'm just glad he gave me the chance.
I've been training with Heidi for many years and she's been supporting us, travelling to watch the games. I have taken tips from her and she is very supportive. It helps me, and even though she's injured she's up here supporting the team. It's been really good of her to come here and support us.
UEFA.com: Are you close to your understudies?
Petersen: Yes, the other players call us the 'keeper club.' We support each other and I'm nothing without the other two goalkeepers. We help each other at training and they are as big a part of this. We have our keeper club and we stick together.
UEFA.com: You've said before you do not study your opponents' penalties, do you have a technique?
Petersen: The only thing that I look for is nerves or their eye movements. Sometimes they look to trick me, though, so I use instinct. Every player is different.
UEFA.com: Mariann, how important has Stina been?
Gajhede: Both in the first game and against France, she's been very important. It's amazing how she's come to the fore because she's always been the second goalkeeper. After Heidi got injured, she grew in confidence and worked hard to develop her game.
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