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 are set to feature 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?
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 barring an injury will make 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.
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 will be tasked with marshalling Denmark’s defence which looks promising. 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: Christian Eriksen
Like the aforementioned pair Christian Eriksen brings a plethora of wisdom. He is arguably their most important player from a creative standpoint, but unlike previous tournament appearances the Inter Milan playmaker will not be carrying Denmark on his shoulders. It still feels like yesterday when the Middelfart-born international announced himself as World Cup 2010’s youngest footballer, and since then, Eriksen has gone from strength to strength, having amassed 36 goals from 106 appearances. There’s no doubt whatsoever that all eyes will be on him when Hjulmand’s side take to the field this summer. If anyone can inspire Denmark then it’s Michael Laudrup’s heir apparent.
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, who featured in all four of their 2018 World Cup matches, will be determined to register his first major tournament goal this summer.
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 an historic Wembley win over England — but they’ve suffered two losses, though both were against Belgium in the Nations League.
Given the sample size when it comes to matches and the lack of a prolonged period of time with his players, it’s fair to say Hjulmand is still in the experimental phase regarding tactics and personnel. He’s tinkered with various formations, but a 4-2-3-1 seems to be his preferred choice. This system was used to great effect against Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions last October, and is fundamentally tailor-made for Eriksen, their most important cog.
By utilising him in a deep-lying forward role, Denmark’s ‘number 10’ is able to get Hjulmand’s wingers — i.e. Braithwaite, Yussuf Poulsen and Pione Sisto — into the game as well as supporting the centre-forward. Right now Jonas Wind is in possession of the ‘number nine’ jersey, but the likes of Kasper Dolberg and Andreas Cornelius will not give up without a fight.
A double pivot has Eriksen’s back and the currently-ranked 10th best team (according to Fifa’s ranking) are blessed with some of the best central midfielders around. Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, in particular, are household names. Hojbjerg’s stock has certainly risen since joining Tottenham from Southampton before the 2020/21 season, whilst Delaney continues to be a fixture at Dortmund. Behind them is an irresistible central defensive pairing of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen.
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: WWWLWWWW
After ending their Nations League group stage with a defeat to Belgium, Denmark have 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.
Chances of winning:
Very few backed Denmark to go all the way in 1992 and thats the exact same feeling nearly three decades on. The Danes are arguably in that cluster of nations below Europe’s elite and Sky Bet are offering odds of 33/1 for Hjulmand’s men to end up victorious this summer. As things stand, they are 10th-favourites, with six former champions above them as well as England, Belgium and Croatia.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)