Mikkel Duelund is aiming to fire Denmark to the semi-finals of the 2019 European Under-21 Championship.
The Dynamo Kiev attacking midfielder played a vital role as the Danes topped their qualifying group ahead of Poland, chalking up seven assists - a tally that no player, even those that featured in the play-offs, can better.
Having scored 10 goals in 13 appearances for Denmark's Under-19 side, he is regarded as one of the stars of this team alongside Philip Billing of Huddersfield, Jacob Bruun-Larsen of Dortmund and Copenhagen’s Robert Skov, having earned comparisons with legends Michael Laudrup and Jon Dahl Tomasson.
As one of the leaders of the squad, he is bullish about his team’s chances this summer, despite being paired against a strong Germany squad in the group stages.
“We have a lot of quality in our squad - so look out for us. We can’t wait for the Euros to start, and we want to jump to the centre of the stage. So bring it on!” he told Goal.
“If we reach our best level, we could have a really great tournament. Our ambition is the semi-finals - and when you are there, then everything can happen.
“We’re an attacking team. We enjoy having possession, creating chances for each other, usually scoring lots of goals, and when things work out for us, we really look good. Of course, one of the challenges for us is to keep the balance in the team because everybody wants to attack, and we can’t be naive when coming up against quality opposition in the Euros. Germany are the favourites in our group, but we always play to win.”
“We won the qualifying group in front of Poland, who were good and still managed to go through to the finals via the play-offs, and then we learned an important lesson in friendlies against England and Spain - and definitely learned how not to play against the best teams,” he said.
“We had improved a lot tactically and won both these games. That gave us a good boost of belief in ourselves before the Euros.
“Under-21 football is about learning and developing, but definitely also about playing good football and then obviously about winning.
“I was also a part of our ‘old’ U21 team in the Euros two years ago, and it is always great to represent your country at a big tournament, but this time it is a culmination of all the years with the youth national teams, growing up and developing together. As a group we are looking so much forward to this ‘last night with the gang’ at the Euros.”
Duelund departed Midtjylland for the Ukraine last summer, having initially shunned the chance to move to England to play academy football, and believes that playing abroad has helped develop his game and that of some of his team-mates.
“A lot of us have left Denmark to play abroad in big clubs, and that has raised the level of the individuals and of the team for sure,” he said.
“I chose myself to develop in the Danish Superligaen, playing more than 100 games and winning two league titles with FC Midtjylland, before moving to Dynamo last summer. And I must say, that it is a huge step to take to go to a top club in Ukraine.
“The Danish league is not bad, but it is not in the top 10 in Europe - like the Ukrainian league, for example, where the technical level and the tempo is much higher.
“For all of us it is a big step to go to a bigger and better league than Superligaen, but that step is not only a big advantage, but actually necessary in order to develop into an international quality player.
“When you move abroad, your entire focus is on football, and you mature a lot as a person - and therefore, in my opinion, also as a player - when you are learning a new language and how to adapt in a new country. And then, of course, the much higher level in football - when you perform at a higher level both at training and in matches, obviously you have to develop yourself every day.”
On a personal note, the move to Ukraine proved a particular test due to a serious ankle injury sustained playing in the Europa League, which sidelined him until the final few games of the campaign. As such, he’s looking forward to proving himself at Dynamo.
“I can’t wait for the Euros to kick-off, but after that I also have my eyes set on next season,” he said. “During my time out with injury I have actually settled in the club and in Kiev extremely well, I have learned the language pretty well, and it is a pleasure to play for this huge club.
“Dynamo is a club with a great young squad, and we want to go for the title next season - but it is also a historic giant, who has the record for most league titles in both the Soviet Union and the Ukraine, and a club that has developed Ballon d’Or winners as well. And that greatness is in the air in the magnificent training ground, our stadium, which was used for the Champions League final last year, and in Kiev in general.
“I am so delighted that I won the race against time to get back and to be 100 percent ready for the Euros. It was a bit of a horror injury for me back in December in that Europa League game, and it took a long time to get back to my best level. It has been frustrating, when you are in a new club and just want one thing: to prove yourself out there on the pitch with your team-mates. But I have turned the frustration into working like mad, and actually now physically I have never been stronger or more fit.”
Compared at home to legends like Laudrup and Tomasson, Duelund is keen to cut his own reputation in his career.
“I love to score goals, and I love to give an assist for a team-mate. As long as I am a decisive part of the attacking action, I am happy,” he said. “That is my aim every time I enter the pitch, and how I best work to help my team win."
Denmark’s Euros opponents have been well warned.