During the course of UEFA EURO 2020 we will be taking a closer look at each of our opponents. On Saturday, we take on Denmark at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam (5pm) in the round of 16. Here's all you need to know about the Danes.
Despite enjoying Olympic success in the early 1900's, Denmark did not make their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup until 1986 in Mexico when Michael Laudrup emerged as one of the most talented players of his generation. Topping their group with impressive victories over Scotland, Uruguay and West Germany, the side were eliminated by Spain in the knock-out stages. Their performances at the tournament followed on from reaching the semi-finals of EURO 1984, where they were also beaten by Spain.
However, it was at EURO 1992 that Denmark shocked the world. Under the guidance of Richard Møller Nielsen Denmark accepted a late invitation to compete at the finals despite failing to qualify, and inspired by goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and the creative influence of Brian Laudrup, surprisingly won the tournament with a 2-0 win over world champions Germany. It remains one of the greatest stories in the history of the competition, and while Denmark have become regular competitors at major finals in recent years, they have not come close to matching that success.
Following a playing career spent in the lower levels of the Danish pyramid system that was brought to an early end through a knee injury, Hjulmand has made his name as a talented coach having started his journey with Danish side Lyngby as the manager of the U18 team before progressing through to the senior side. His subsequent work with Nordsjælland first as assistant and then manager between 2008 and 2014 brought him to the attention of German side Mainz 05, but he was sacked less than a year later and returned to Nordsjælland. Hjulmand was appointed manager of the national team in July 2020.
Name: Simon Kjær
Club: AC Milan (Italy)
A significant presence at the centre of the Danish defence, Kjær made his senior international debut back in June 2009 after coming through the intermediate ranks, and is now fourth on the all-time appearance list for the Danish national team having played over 100 games for his country. Kjær has played club football across Europe since starting his career in his native Denmark with FC Midtjylland, representing clubs in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Turkey, and is currently back in Italy with AC Milan having completed a permanent move from Sevilla in July 2020.
While the shock success of EURO 1992 headlines Denmark's history in the competition, they were one of just four teams to qualify for the finals in 1964, but suffered defeats against the Soviet Union and Hungary. However, they returned 20-years later and reached the semi-finals at EURO 1984 and qualified through the group stage of the competition with victories over Yugoslavia and Belgium before losing to Spain on penalties. Failing to get through the group stages in 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2012, their only other positive campaign was at EURO 2004 when they reached the quarter-finals, but were then eliminated by the Czech Republic in a 3-0 defeat.
How they qualified
Denmark were the only team in Group D to go through the EURO 2020 qualifying campaign undefeated as Norwegian manager Åge Hareide guided them to the runners-up spot behind Switzerland with four wins and four draws. Denmark began the group with draws against Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland, but then registered convincing 5-1 and 6-0 wins over Georgia and Gibraltar respectively. However, the side dropped points in a 0-0 draw against Georiga in Tbilisi before recovering to beat Switzerland 1-0 through a goal from Yussuf Poulson in October 2019. Another 6-0 win over Gibraltar in Copenhagen followed before the side were held to a 1-1 draw against Ireland in Dublin to finish second in the group. Christian Eriksen was the leading scorer in the group with five goals.
Denmark enjoyed a positive start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign in March as they recorded three wins from three games with victories over Israel, Moldova and Austria, scoring 14 goals without reply in the process. A pre-tournament draw with Germany and 2-0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina meant the side arrived at EURO 2020 in good form and with the advantage of playing their three group games in Copenhagen. However, the cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Eriksen in the opening match against Finland had an understandable affect on the side, but despite losing to Finland and Belgium, the resounding 4-1 win over Russia on Monday night said everything about the strength of character in this side.
There is a tactical versatility to this Denmark side under manager Kasper Hjulmand and they will adapt their formation depending on their opponents and what they need from the match. A more conservative four-man defence has been used against stronger opposition, but when it came to the must-win match against Russia on Monday, they revered to a 3-4-3 formation that provided the platform for their attacking players to perform. While they miss the creative talent of Christian Eriksen, there were four different goalscorers on Monday, which did not include Barcelona striker Martin Braithwaite. Meanwhile, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg plays an influential role in midfield when the side push forward in numbers.
“The squad was experienced and had character and talent behind Eriksen, who is the oil in this Danish machine, he makes it all work. It was the moment that this generation of players were expected to make their mark on history. After it happened all the Danish players could do was to stand around their teammate in a circle, protecting him from a spotlight he has never really liked. Through the deepest despair and fear the team rallied around their friend. The game was supposed to be a celebration of a return to normality after over a year of Covid-19. It did not turn out like that. But one thing is clear, it has brought the Danish team – and people – closer together.” - Troels Henriksen, Danish football journalist for the Guardian.
A moment in history – When Denmark became Kings of Europe
Michael Laudrup is arguably one of Denmark's greatest-ever players. The former Real Madrid and Barcelona attacking midfielder was in his prime when the Danes were invited to compete at the EURO 1992 finals in place of Yugoslavia, but he was not part of the side that would famously win the competition as he remained in dispute with manager Richard Møller Nielsen and declined the olive branch offer to be included in the squad.
“The myth is that we were all on the beach,” goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel told UEFA.com in 2015. “You know, myths are myths. The reality was that we'd finished our seasons, the players who played abroad, when we got told that we were in. But we've come back from playing our seasons and all we were thinking about was a holiday. So holidays upstairs, but physically still working.”
An opening 0-0 draw against England in Malmö was followed by a 1-0 defeat to host nation Sweden as Tomas Brolin scored the only goal of the game. It was proving to be a difficult tournament for Denmark, although their performances had deserved a better return. However, qualification from the group was assured as the side defeated France 2-1 through goals from Henrik Larsen and Lars Dahl Elstrup in Malmö.
Two goals from Larsen in the semi-final against the talented Dutch side that had won the competition four years earlier meant that a penalty shoot-out would decide which team progressed to the final as the match finished 2-2 in Gothenburg. Schmeichel made what would prove to be the decisive penalty save from Marco van Basten and Denmark would now meet world champions Germany in the final.
Incredibly, goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort defied the odds in Gothenburg as Denmark lifted the trophy following a 2-0 win. “It was magical and unexpected,” added Schmeichel. “Richard Møller Nielsen is the most successful football coach we've ever had, that's indisputable, and he's not been recognised as a good coach. It's weird. We should be ashamed of that.”
Record v Cymru
There have been 10 previous meetings between Cymru and Denmark, with Cymru only winning four of the fixtures compared to the six victories claimed by the Danes. The story began in October 1964 when a solitary goal from Ole Madsen earned Denmark a 1-0 win over Dave Bowen's Cymru in Copenhagen. However, Roy Vernon scored a brace in the return match as Cymru ran out 4-2 winners in Wrexham in December 1965. Denmark have won the last two meetings between the teams when they were drawn together for the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2018, while Cymru's last victory over Denmark came in November 2008 when Craig Bellamy scored the only goal for John Toshack's side in a 1-0 friendly win in Copenhagen.