Baku (AFP) – Denmark may have achieved one goal by reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley but, inspired by a “proud” Christian Eriksen, they have no intention of stopping there.
A 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic on Saturday propelled the Danes into the last four of a major tournament for the first time since their shock triumph at Euro 1992.
It has been a remarkable effort, under a coach who would not have been in charge if not for the Covid-19 pandemic, and after two opening defeats, the first of which, to Finland, was overshadowed by the terrifying collapse of star player Eriksen after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch.
But 10 goals in three successive wins have put the Scandinavians two matches away from following in the footsteps of the class of 92, while Inter Milan midfielder Eriksen has been cheering them on from home.
“Christian wrote about the squad that he’s proud of us,” said midfielder Thomas Delaney, who scored the opening goal against the Czechs, of a message Eriksen sent to the team on Saturday.
“He’s always been such an important part of this team, and our best player for years.
“We play with him on the chest, and he deserves to be there. We always struggle a little with that, but making him proud makes me, and the others, happy.”
When goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said before the tournament that the team wanted to emulate the title-winning side of 29 years ago, which was inspired by his father Peter, his comments seemed over-ambitious.
– Denmark ‘not satisfied’ with semi-finals –
But Denmark’s success should not come as a surprise.
The team have lost only three of 29 matches since a last-16 exit at the 2018 World Cup, beaten on penalties by eventual runners-up Croatia, and sit 10th in the FIFA world rankings.
On Wednesday in the semi-finals, they face England at Wembley where they beat Gareth Southgate’s men in the Nations League last November, following a goalless draw in Copenhagen.
“We had a goal when we entered this competition: to go to Wembley,” captain Simon Kjaer told television channel DR.
“We are there. But I would be lying to say that we are satisfied with it… That Christian is well means that we can continue to push. He knows that we are playing for him.”
A lot of the work in making Denmark serious challengers was done by former coach Ade Hareide, who was due to step down after Euro 2020.
But when the tournament was delayed by a year due to Covid, he passed the baton to Kasper Hjulmand.
– The strength of being friends –
Denmark have become the neutrals’ favourites, partly because of the players’ reaction to Eriksen’s collapse, when they protected him from the glare of the cameras and consoled his distraught partner, and also because of their exciting football.
“The strength of the squad is being friends,” Hareide told the BBC.
“There are very, very tight connections between the players. Denmark is a small country and most of these players have been playing together from the Under-16s up to the national team so they know each other really well.
“When I came in, I settled the team more like a club side than a national team side.”
The Danes are reaping the rewards of Hareide’s work, with Hjulmand having added extra flair to an already strong side.
Youngster Mikkel Damsgaard, dubbed ‘Damsinho’ by the Danish press, has filled in for Eriksen brilliantly, while rampaging Atalanta wing-back Joakim Maehle has been a revelation at the Euro.
England, set to be roared on by the majority of more than 60,000 fans, will be favourites to reach the final on Wednesday, but Denmark are ready to rise to the challenge.
“The battle must be fought in England, we’ll fight the best we can,” Southampton centre-back Jannik Vestergaard wrote on Instagram.