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Norway and Denmark have met 12 times in little over ten years but no encounter has been as big as Thursday's UEFA Women's EURO 2013 semi-final in Norrkoping with a place in Sunday's Solna decider against Germany the prize.
Two-time champions Norway have sailed serenely through, winning their last three games including one against Germany, and coach Even Pellerud, who masterminded their last European triumph 20 years ago, is relishing a "classic Nordic rivalry". Denmark's progress has been less smooth with no victories over 90 minutes, a drawing of lots and a penalty shoot-out defeat of France, but Kenneth Heiner-Møller is happy with their showing despite being well aware that, as usual, Norway have peaked at just the right time.
Even Pellerud, Norway coach
We are very happy to be here in Norrkoping, we are excited about taking the team to the semi-finals of this year's European Championship. We are very impressed by the quality of the tournament and the facilities. The games have proved to be high-quality games, which we [predicted].
We are happy with the team's progress over the last two weeks. We have managed to play four tough games, winning three and drawing one with Iceland. We are pleased to get through all these games with no major injuries except our third goalkeeper Silje Vesterbekkmo. All our other players seem to be very fit and happy at our new hotel just outside Norrkoping. It is hard to imagine a nicer place. We are simply resting, there is a short time between games and our focus is now not to train hard but to rest players and enjoy our time together.
It's a classic Nordic rivalry between two teams that know each other very, very well. There have historically been some Norwegian players playing in Denmark and some Danish players in Norway. There is a long record of big games between these two countries from the 70s and onwards. I was part of these games myself in the 90s. With my staff we have, of course, done a lot of observing and analysing the Danish team in the last 24 hours. They play the game a little differently than the other teams we have seen – very offensive-minded, very skilful, very smart footballers. They have managed to come through this stage in a very different way to other teams, they have managed to come through obstacles and that tells us a lot about the team.
I understand [people think us favourites] based on the hurdles Denmark have been forced to go through. But it could have been different if they had won the first game against Sweden, which I think they should have; their route would have been easier. But they have had to fight their way through, not allowing them to play the beautiful, classical way Denmark are renowned for. Maybe they can find that back tomorrow.
A coach never thinks [his team are favourites]. We have different genes to journalists.
• Pellerud's charges took top spot in Group B thanks to a 1-0 defeat of Germany in Kalmar. Ingvild Isaksen's goal ended the holders' 59-game unbeaten run in UEFA European Women's Championship matches. That came after a frustrating 1-1 draw with Iceland and a 1-0 success against the Netherlands, Solveig Gulbrandsen hitting the winner in her first major tournament back from retirement.
Norway 3-1 Spain (Gulbrandsen 24, Paredes 43og, Hegerberg 64; Hermoso 90+2)
Hjelmseth; Mjelde, Rønning, Christensen, Akerhaugen; Gulbrandsen, Isaksen (Dekkerhus 76), Stensland; Hansen (Ryland 81), Hegerberg (Thorsnes 71), Hegland.
• Norway reached the semi-finals courtesy of a comfortable 3-1 defeat of Spain in Kalmar, Gulbrandsen breaking the deadlock and an Irene Paredes own goal doubling their lead, before Ada Hegerberg's excellent effort put the match to bed. Jennifer Hermoso struck Spain's consolation in added time.
As Pellerud confirmed, only Vesterbekkmo is unavailable.
Kenneth Heiner-Møller, Denmark coach
Obviously we are very much looking forward to playing a semi-final in the EUROs. We now have a game against Norway, which is a great sight. When you look at their results in this tournament, it is typical Norway: they are not that good in the warm-up matches, losing a lot of games, but when it comes to the final tournament they are ready.
I think we can be very happy with our performances so far. I think we have shown ourselves – but also some spectators – what kind of football we like to play. I think we have been playing well going forward, we have been clever, and playing with a lot of courage. That is who we are, that is what we want to be.
But these four games are not enough for us; we cannot say we are satisfied with playing four good games. We have to perform in yet another game, a game very close to the quarter-final against France, which was a great match, a long match. We cannot say we want to win – obviously we want to win – but we focus on the performance. We have to be bold, we have to be clever, we have to be hard-working for 90 minutes, maybe 120, and we will be that. No doubt about it.
• Goalkeeper Stina Petersen was the hero for Denmark in their opening Group A encounter, saving two penalties to frustrate hosts Sweden. Heiner-Møller's side lost out to Italy in their next game and were denied victory late on by Annica Sjölund in their last match, which meant they faced a nervous wait to see if they would qualify as one of the two best third-placed teams. Following a dramatic drawing of lots, they progressed.
France 1-1 Denmark, aet 2-4 pens (Rasmussen 28; Necib 71pen)
Petersen; Nielsen, Ørntoft, Arnth, Røddik; Brogaard (Jensen 74), Søndergaard Pedersen, Gajhede Knudsen; Veje (Nadim 67), Harder, Rasmussen (Rydahl 61).
• It took a penalty shoot-out win for Denmark to edge past France and into the last four. Johanna Rasmussen put Heiner-Møller's side in front after 28 minutes in Linkoping, and although Louisa Necib equalised with a penalty, the same player had her attempt saved by Stina Petersen in the shoot-out. France's Sarah Bouhaddi kept out Theresa Nielsen, but Sabrina Delannoy hit the woodwork and Janni Arnth did the rest.
Despite a hard 120 minutes on Monday, Denmark's squad are in good shape.
Norway have beaten Denmark in their two previous UEFA European Women's Championship semi-final meetings. Pellerud was in the midst of his first spell at the Norway helm for both those victories, an 8-7 success on penalties at the end of a goalless draw in 1991 and a 1-0 win two years later.
Did you know?
Denmark captain Katrine Søndergaard Pedersen is set to win her 210th cap against a Norway side potentially containing eight of her Stabæk FK club-mates: Ingrid Hjelmseth, Ingvild Stensland, Toril Hetland Akerhaugen, Trine Rønning, Elise Thorsnes, Caroline Graham Hansen, Leni Larsen Kaurin and Cathrine Dekkerhus. "That just inspires me and motivates me even more," Pedersen said.
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