Denmark’s race to Euro 2020 is about class and coaching, not just team spirit

Denmark’s race to Euro 2020 is about class and coaching, not just team spirit

reenmark are on a mission they never wanted to take, inspired by a tragedy their players might never fully absorb, but their uplifting march to the European Championship semi-finals is not entirely explained by the spirit they regained after Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest. This is too simplistic and does a disservice to Kasper Hjulmand and his players, who played with a quality equal to their impressive determination to defeat the Czech Republic in Baku.

Joyful disbelief was etched on the faces of the Danish staff, players and fans after a grueling but well-deserved quarter-final victory. The parallels to the unlikely 1992 triumph continue and Denmark will see no reason to fear their opponents in the semi-finals at Wembley on Wednesday. The motivation to fight for a fallen teammate provides formidable strength, understandably, but the Czechs were defeated by a calculated game plan brilliantly executed in the first half and then determined to cross the line in the second. Both sides of Denmark paid a new tribute to the leadership of Hjulmand, who enriched the Euro not only with his human touch under the most traumatic circumstances, but with a sure touch on the sidelines.

The Czech Republic had shown determination throughout their loss to the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Sunday, but were opened up several times in a first half that ultimately decided the game. Hjulmand targeted the wings and his team easily placed behind Tomas Kalas and company.

Joakim Mæhle produced a moment of real class which made all the difference. Early in the second half, after a double substitution for Jaroslav Silhavy shifted the momentum in favor of the Czech Republic, the Denmark coach responded in such a way to quash the growing threat. Two increasingly tired teams found themselves trading weak blows.

Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik was beaten in five minutes when his defenders abandoned Thomas Delaney in a corner kick. Simon Kjær executed a training ground block on Tomas Holes as Jens Stryger’s cross came into the box, but even so, Silhavy will have been dismayed at the lack of attention his players paid to Delaney. An unmarked midfielder’s manual header provided the platform for Denmark’s comfortable first half.

Mæhle provided the beauty of Denmark’s display with arguably the Euro assist, an exquisite cross from the outside of the left winger’s right boot which Kasper Dolberg picked up on the fly to double his advantage . It was another demonstration that this is not a workaholic team propelled by a bigger cause: there is a quality in the collective that Denmark’s opponents in the semi-finals can hardly afford. to ignore.

The front line of Mikkel Damsgaard, Martin Braithwaite and Dolberg complemented each other well, the sum of their disparate parts providing an effective balance against a passive Czech side. It took the half-time introductions of Jakub Jankto and Michael Krmencik, an additional striker, to finally liven up Silhavy’s side and force Denmark to fight for their place in the last four. Hjulmand responded by removing Damsgaard and Dolberg for midfielder Christian Nørgaard and Yussuf Poulsen, who highlighted the range of attacking options available for Denmark with a sharp injury return.

Daniel Wass (left) and Joakim Mæhle celebrate Denmark’s victory over the Czech Republic. Photographie: Tolga Bozoğlu/EPA

With the pressure on, the air threat increasing and Patrik Schick scoring his fifth goal of the tournament to become his top scorer, Kasper Schmeichel and captain, Kjær, took on the responsibility they displayed off the pitch to preserve the lead. narrow from Denmark.

Schmeichel confidently saved Krmencik and Antonin Barak. Luck was on Kjær’s side when he cut a clearance from Jankto’s volley off his own goal and not at close range. He deserved it: the Danish captain, who had been treated from an injury, was once again immobile in central defense and in the foreground when fatigue gripped both groups of players and emptied the game into a spectacle. We have to thank UEFA for this.

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Denmark made it to Wembley despite obstacles placed in their way by European football’s governing body. So much for an authority that has the best interests of players and supporters at heart. With little choice but to finish the game against Finland after Eriksen was rushed to hospital, they and the Czech Republic had to travel to oil-rich Azerbaijan for a quarter of finale which their fans would have struggled to attend even without a pandemic added to the complications. The Danes had the most followers – Czech support numbered in the hundreds – but there should have been so many more to make noise in a match of this magnitude. As sweat rolled down the players’ faces during the national anthems, the sheer folly of having to travel over 2,000 miles for a European Championship match in Asia was once again highlighted. And for the next round of football: a FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The heat, ridiculous schedule and travel have inevitably taken their toll in the final stages and Denmark have to worry about how much energy they will have left by the time they step out at Wembley. This worry can wait. Hjulmand and his tireless team continue to find a way.


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