A Real Madrid-supporting, Zinédine Zidane-loving centre-back who wanted to be a lawyer, Denmark's Jannik Vestergaard hopes to defy expectations again on Tuesday.
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Had his life taken a different path, Jannik Vestergaard might have found himself in court. Do not get the wrong idea – the Denmark U21 captain was always more likely to fall foul of referees than the law, but the Werder Bremen defender did once see himself working closer to the witness box than the penalty box.
"I always wanted to be a lawyer – it's not a typical footballer's answer, I know, but I love to argue, to find a weakness in my opponents' argument," Vestergaard told UEFA.com in an eloquent manner that suggests he would have been a success at the bar. "As a 14-year-old, I spent two weeks in the public prosecutor's office as an intern. I really enjoyed it. I know it's tough to become a lawyer. There's a lot of hard work and reading to be done, but I always saw myself becoming one if I didn't make it in football."
Given he has nearly a century of Bundesliga appearances to his name after making his debut at Hoffenheim late in the 2010/11 season, his fledgling legal career will never take flight. Despite his alternative plan, football has been the leitmotif of Vestergaard's life since the age of four when he convinced his father to sign him up to a local club in Copenhagen.
It was there dreams of becoming a professional were nurtured, but once again, the towering Vestergaard, who measures nearly two metres tall, did not fit the footballing cliches. "I was always keen on attacking players, not defenders," said the 22-year-old centre-back, a boyhood fan of Real Madrid, Michael Laudrup, Raúl and Zinédine Zidane.
"Of course I didn't dream of just kicking balls away! I wanted to score goals, I wanted to do nice dribbles. Eventually, though, I realised it wasn't going to happen, not at this level. I adapted, I was put in defence, and I have learned to like it. But as a kid, I wanted to score goals."
He was able to fulfill that dream in his country's opening U21 EURO game against the Czech Republic, sounding the rallying cry with a header to equalise at the Eden Stadium before his side came through to win 2-1. The 3-0 defeat by Germany that followed means Jess Thorup's men cannot afford another slip-up against Serbia on Tuesday, even if a point may be enough for them to progress.
"It's a final. It's all about going through to the semi-finals, so it's a very important game. We both have something to gain and something to lose," said Vestergaard, whose side will still progress with a draw if the hosts do not beat Germany in the other final Group A match. "We have to be smart and not allow Serbia any opportunity to counterattack as they're very dangerous in that area. Their attacking three are very good on the ball, and have good pace. We have to be smart, defend well, and take our chances."