Football Features

Denmark Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:05, 26 June 2021 | Updated: 12:48, 5 July 2021

Denmark booked their place at this summer’s European Championship after finishing as unbeaten runners-up in Group D.

The Scandinavian nation missed out on top spot by a single point but were nevertheless relentless when it came to going forward, which should hold them in good stead this summer. De rod-hvide have a heavily experienced squad at this summer’s tournament and they will have the unenviable task of living up to Richard Moller Nielsen’s 1992 winners.

Back then Denmark, who initially failed to qualify only to be readmitted 10 days before the competition began, were tournament outsiders but through sheer team spirit “Danish Dynamite” defied the odds and wrote one of football’s greatest Cinderella stories.

Can this latest class replicate Peter Schmeichel, Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsen and Co?

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The best players Denmark will bring to Euro 2020

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel 

Just like in their finest hour there’s a Schmeichel between the sticks for Denmark. Peter’s son Kasper, an elite shot-stopper in his own right, has won 63 international caps to date, keeping 32 clean sheets in that time. During their recent European qualifying run, the Leicester City goalkeeper was only breached on six occasions and half of those came in Denmark’s opening 3-3 draw at Switzerland.

Schmeichel has the ‘number one’ jersey on lock and made his Euro debut this summer. His previous tournament experience was the 2018 World Cup finals where he kept two clean sheets, including against eventual champions France, but the Premier League winner couldn’t turn hero as Croatia dumped Age Hareide’s men out on penalties in the round-of-16. It hasn’t been the greatest of starts for Schmeichel, who has conceded four goals in three group stage games, but he will be hoping to help them in the knockout rounds.

Defender: Simon Kjaer

There’s no substitute for experience and Danish national team captain Simon Kjaer is such an example. The much-travelled centre-back — who has represented nine clubs across six different countries — made his 100th international appearance in 2020, in a career which began over a decade ago. Kjaer was ever-present in their European qualifying campaign and has been tasked with marshalling Denmark’s defence. He’s also a survivor of the Dane’s last Euro participation in 2012 when they shocked World Cup runners-up the Netherlands with a 1-0 victory on the opening week.

Midfielder: Mikkel Damsgaard

In the absence of Christian Eriksen, Mikkel Damsgaard has taken up one of Denmark’s attacking roles, and the Sampdoria man has been a good replacement. The 20-year-old only made his Denmark debut in 2020 and entered Euro 2020 with three caps and two goals. He started the last two of Denmark’s three group stage games and scoring the opener in their 4-1 win over Russia, setting them on course to the knockout stages. Now Damsgaard will be hoping to inspire another Danish foray late into the European Championships.

Forward: Martin Braithwaite

Eyebrows were raised when Barcelona, in early 2020, acquired the services of ex-Middlesbrough forward Martin Braithwaite after they were granted an emergency exception following Ousmane Dembele’s long-term injury. But in all fairness, he’s made the most of this opportunity, subsequently becoming a cult Camp Nou hero. Such exposure, notably training alongside Lionel Messi, has raised his game, thus potentially benefiting Denmark in the long run. Braithwaite has featured on the wing in all three of Denmark’s games, and will be determined to register his first major tournament goal in the knockout stages.

The manager: Kasper Hjulmand

Since the Euro champion Nielsen stepped down as Denmark boss in 1996 there have been four permanent national team coaches. Morten Olsen was the longest-serving, being at the helm from July 2000 to November 2015, while incumbent Kasper Hjulmand currently has only 10 matches under his belt.

Hjulmand, who enjoyed a modest playing career, only took up coaching in 2006 when Lyngby promoted him from within. He’d soon move to Nordsjaelland where he briefly served as an assistant coach before taking over the reins which proved to be a masterstroke as in his first season he guided The Tigers to Danish Superliga glory.

Bundesliga outfit Mainz 05 were paying close attention, so much so that when Thomas Tuchel opted to follow Jurgen Klopp’s path to Borussia Dortmund they hired Hjulmand, but that relationship never lasted more than 24 games. So, it was back to Nordsjaelland, where interest subdued until it was announced Hjulmand would replace Hareide in the Danish hotseat.

As touched upon, Hjulmand’s body of work is pretty small; under him Denmark have won seven times — including a historic Wembley win over England — but they’ve suffered two losses, though both were against Belgium in the Nations League.

“Why not us?” – Kasper Schmeichel looking to emulate father at Euro 2020

Memories of that Euro 92 success still burn brightly in Denmark and Kasper Schmeichel, whose father was between the goalposts for that famous side, is heading into this summer’s tournament dreaming of emulating his parent.

The Danes are in the middle of the pack when it comes to the favourites for Euro 2020, but Schmeichel is insisting he and is teammates are aiming high.

“You’ve got to dream big … and the question we’ve got to ask ourselves is ‘Why not us?'” the Leicester goalkeeper said in the build-up to the tournament.

“When you look at the results that we can achieve when the pressure is on, we have every reason to be optimistic.”

The tactics

In the build up to Euro 2020 it looked as though Hjulmand would be opting for a 4-2-3-1, and he did started the first game in a 4-3-3 before switching to a three-man central defence. In this system, Simon Kjaer is flanked by Jannik Vestergaard and Andreas Christensen, with the latter having experience of three-at-the-back en route to winning the Champions League with Chelsea last season – capable to playing across the three. The wing-backs, Daniel Wass and Joakim Maehle, have two very different roles with Wass holding back on the right while Maehle essential plays as a winger, which proved crucial for his goal against Russia.

In midfield, Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg play a dual role of protecting the defence and starting the attacks for a front three that is very fluid. Yussuf Poulsen operates almost as a false nine, dropping deeper to allow Martin Braithwaite space further up the pitch, but the RB Leipzig man does still press very high and benefited from a mistake against Russia as a result. Then, Damsgaard joins them to work his magic.

This expected line-up isn’t a million miles away from the XI that took to the field during Denmark’s penalty shootout defeat to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup round-of-16. Core players like Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Eriksen, Yussuf Poulsen and Andreas Christensen are still around, though the latter has moved back into his preferred centre-back role.

The form guide

Euro 2020 qualifying: DWWDWWDD

Denmark finished the Euro qualifiers without defeat, making them one of five unbeaten teams heading into this summer’s championship. Unlike the other four nations — Ukraine, Spain, Italy and Belgium — they weren’t group winners. Switzerland pipped them for that distinct honour. It could have been different if Republic of Ireland full-back Matt Doherty hadn’t netted five minutes from time to salvage a point against the Danes in the final round of fixtures. Georgia and Gibraltar were comfortably brushed aside elsewhere.

Recent fixtures: WLLWDWWW

After ending their Nations League group stage with a defeat to Belgium, Denmark bounced back in emphatic fashion, already putting themselves in good stead to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Denmark have won all three of their group games so far, beating Israel, Moldova and Austria with a combined score of 14-0. The Danes drew 1-1 with Germany in the build up to Euro 2020 and, despite losing their opening two Group B games, qualified in second place thanks to their 4-1 win over Russia which put them top of a tie-breaker mini league alongside Russia and Finland.

Chances of winning:

Very few backed Denmark to go all the way in 1992 and that’s the exact same feeling nearly three decades on even after qualification. The Danes are arguably in that cluster of nations below Europe’s elite and Sky Bet are offering odds of 18/1 for Hjulmand’s men to end up victorious this summer. As things stand, they are ninth-favourites, with six former champions above them as well as England and Belgium.

(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)

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