Football Features

“As much a force of nature as Spinazzola” – Five things learned as dynamic Denmark send Czech Republic crashing out of Euro 2020

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:38, 3 July 2021

In an exciting evening of football, Denmark beat Czech Republic 2-1 to advance to the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

What did we learn?

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1. Danish Super Strikers leading the way

In the group stages Yussuf Poulsen was Denmark’s starting striker and he responded with two goals, one against Belgium and another against Russia in that decisive last game win. But injury ruled him out of the last 16 tie against Wales and Kasper Dolberg came in.

Dolberg ripped Wales to pieces with two goals of stunning quality. Two brilliantly precise finishes that simply could not have been made by an ordinary forward, requiring Dolberg’s absurd talent to pull them off.

Dolberg then got the start tonight and although he looked less lethal he once again bagged a massive goal, the game-winner as it turns out, when he turned home Joakim Maehle’s cross with extreme precision. As he tired, Poulsen was introduced in the second-half and exploded onto the game, instantly adding an incredible amount of thrust to Denmark and almost scoring twice.

Scoring goals at major international tournaments is the hardest thing to do and can literally make or break a team’s fortunes. Spain have played sensational football but were heading out until they started finding the net. But Denmark’s Super Strikers have shown a consistent goalscoring ability that has lifted them to the semi-finals and could yet take them beyond even that.

2. Patrik Schick cannot be stopped

At half-time of this Euro 2020 quarter-final, the Czech Republic were looking dead and buried despite their star striker Patrik Schick looking quite dangerous whenever he was in possession. The Bayer Leverkusen forward’s dribbling and shot selection was causing problems, he just needed help.

Help arrived in the form of half-time sub Michael Krmencik who immediately began distracting Danish defenders and within five minutes Schick had swept his side back into the game with a really neat finish from a Vladimir Coufal cross.

It was Schick’s fifth goal at the tournament, making him joint-top goalscorer. He’s scored all kinds of goals at Euro 2020 and really showed his persistent goalscoring potential, even in the face of his country’s elimination. In fact the only thing that did stop him was his own manager bizarrely subbing him off with 10 minutes to play.

3. The incomparable Joakim Maehle

After Leonardo Spinazzola’s Euro 2020 tragically ended through injury, it was left to Joakim Maehle to carry the world’s newfound affinity for right-footed left wing-backs. And Maehle is just as much a force of nature for the Danes as Spinazzola is for Italy.

Today we saw yet another example of just how good he is. There was no goal; even though he really should have scored after a nice move late in the game left him 1-v-1 but he struck his shot too close to Tomas Vaclik.

However there was an absolutely mind-bending assist, the game-winning assist. Just before half-time Jannik Vestergaard sent Maehle running down the left and the winger looked up and saw Martin Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg in the middle. He then flipped a stunning ball into the box with the outside of his right foot, a miraculous cross that flew perfectly for Braithwaite, albeit the striker couldn’t connect, and then even flowing nicely for Dolberg to follow-up and get the finish.

A miracle cross. The match-winning moment that sent Denmark into their first semi-finals since they last won the Euros in 1992.

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4. It’s not just Eriksen

It’s obviously tempting and honestly understandable to put Denmark’s incredible rise to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 down to the players fighting for Christian Eriksen, who so tragically collapsed in their opening game against Finland. That’s an understandable narrative to hew to, but it’s not entirely accurate.

Yes, obviously the Danes are fighting for Eriksen, they’ve said as much themselves. But it’s more than just that: they are a very, very good side. Premier League and FA Cup winner Kasper Schmeichel is in goal and offers so much leadership and experience.

Their centre-backs include Andreas Christensen who was just excellent in the Champions League final and Simon Kjaer who has been such a beacon of leadership and excellence that AC Milan fans are already calling for Kjaer to be appointed the club’s first non-Italian captain since Nils Liedholm in 1961.

In midfield they have the superb Pierre Emile Hojbjerg who is a true do-it-all midfield dynamo. Out wide is the excellent Joakim Maehle, the sturdy Thomas Delaney and the prodigious Mikkel Damsgaard.

And up-front, Kasper Dolberg was once a world-class prospect before injury hit him and Yussuf Poulsen is a tremendously direct forward. Meanwhile Martin Braithwaite plays for Barcelona and plays with the intelligence and tactical awareness you’d expect from one of their players (there’s a reason he’s only been subbed off once this tournament despite offering an inconsistent goal threat).

This an exceptionally talented squad that are well organised and play brilliantly effective and organised football. Denmark are more than just a Christian Eriksen grief narrative, they are a genuinely brilliant side.

5. A blockbuster semi-final

While all the talk has been about how Denmark (and England) are in the “weak” half of the draw, while the other half is stacked with world-class teams full of world-class talent, now that we’re down to the semi-finals that narrative has to stop.

Denmark are a brilliant side who, once they got over the genuine tragedy that rocked them in the first game, have been consistently excellent at Euro 2020. They’re as worthy semi-finalists as Spain (Italy have been a class above everyone) and would be worth just as much appreciation as England and Ukraine, whichever side should reach the semi-final.

If England make the semi, the quality is obvious and it would be a massive tie against Denmark. But even if Ukraine get there, it would be a massive tie. For Ukraine to get through the teams they will have gotten through, to show the grit and determination and quality they would have done would command such respect. “The power is not how you punch, the power is how you gonna stand up,” said Oleksandr Zinchenko, and that sums up their attitude; they refuse to quit and so if they somehow get by England they will be worthy opponents.

This will be a massive semi-final, no matter who Denmark play.