Opinion: Why Denmark can go all the way at Euro 2020 after quarter-final win over Czech Republic
Kasper Hjulmand's team have overcome significant challenges to make the Euro 2020 semi-finals and could face England in the next round. Even without Christian Eriksen, Denmark have the look of a team that can go even further at the tournament. They have a lot more than just momentum behind them at the moment.
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It hardly seemed to matter at the time, given what unfolded in their first fixture to be played at Euro 2020, but Denmark’s tournament looked to have ended before it had truly started. The psychological damage of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest was so great, many questioned how his teammates and friends could continue.
From a footballing perspective, which came into view once news of Eriksen’s recovery surfaced, Denmark lost their best and most important player. Kasper Hjulmand had built his entire team around the Inter midfielder. So much of Denmark’s creativity and attacking threat flowed through Eriksen.
Hjulmand had no chance of replacing Eriksen, so he didn’t even try. Instead, he changed Denmark’s system and approach, shifting to a back three with wing backs. While Denmark entered Euro 2020 looking to control games in midfield through passing triangles, Hjulmand asked for more hard running and direct play from his players.
The changes have had the desired effect. Denmark have sensationally moved on from the trauma of their opening Euro 2020 fixture to reach the semi-finals. And who’s to say they can’t go all the way? This is a well-coached team with individual quality and a manager unafraid to make changes. Then there’s the momentum Denmark have behind them as the neutral’s favourites.
Portugal were a poorer team in 2016, when they became European champions, than this Denmark side is. In a semi-final line-up that Italy, Spain and one of England or Ukraine, they might be underdogs, but nobody should look at them as minnows. Denmark must be taken seriously as genuine contenders.
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This is, after all, a group of players accustomed to the top level of the sport. Kasper Schmeichel is one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers with Simon Kjaer a key figure for an AC Milan side that finished second in Serie A last season. Andreas Christensen was recently crowned a European champion with Chelsea while Jannik Vestergaard is also proven in the Premier League.
Thomas Delaney, Yussuf Poulsen, Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite are all Champions League level operators with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg a first team figure for Tottenham Hotspur. Denmark might be missing a real star in Eriksen, but they still boast an experienced group of players in the peak years of their careers.
In Kjaer and Maehle, Denmark have two Team of the Tournament candidates with the latter catching the eye in particular with his runs and deliveries down the left wing - see his stunning outside-of-the-boot cross for Kasper Dolberg’s goal in the quarter-final win over the Czech Republic.
Mikkel Damsgaard of Denmark scores their side's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group B match between Russia and Denmark at Parken Stadium on June 21, 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark
Image credit: Eurosport
In attack, the unit of Braithwaite, Dolberg and Mikkel Damsgaard, who has been one of the breakout stars of Euro 2020, are fluid and interchangeable. Only Spain (12) have scored more goals at this tournament than Denmark (11), illustrating just how dangerous they are in transition. There is still plenty of freedom within Hjulmand’s system.
Some may argue Denmark have yet to pass a true test at Euro 2020 having only beaten Russia, Wales and the Czech Republic to make the final four. The one elite level team they faced, Belgium, they lost to. There was, however, still enough in that performance against the number one ranked team in the world to hint at their potential to go far at this tournament.
Of course, Denmark have already shocked European football by going all the way at a Euros once before, back in 1992. This is a country with a footballing pedigree that far outweighs their population of just 6 million. But even by their historic standard of producing good players and good teams, Hjulmand’s side have something special.