By beating the Czech Republic in Baku, Denmark have reached their fourth European Championship semi-final. They have won one, against the Netherlands in 1992, when they won the whole tournament, and lost two, in 1964 and 1984, when they fell to the Soviet Union and Spain respectively. This time they face England at Wembley on Wednesday.
Kasper Hjulmand's side has already been through an emotional rollercoaster this summer, from seeing their star player Christian Eriksen suffer a cardiac arrest in their opening game, which they lost 1-0 against Finland, to beating Russia 4-1 to go through to the knockout phase and the two subsequent wins against Wales and the Czech Republic.
Here we look at how the team may approach the England game and what dangers await Gareth Southgate’s side, as well as clues of how to get the upper hand against them.
They are, of course, driven by the togetherness borne from the horrible events of June 12th when Eriksen collapsed, but they were quite a formidable force even before that. Hjulmand has taken what Åge Hareide built from 2016 to 2020 but made them more expansive and attack-minded. The three-man defence with Simon Kjær, Andreas Christensen and Jannik Vestergaard has worked extremely well during this European Championship finals and up front there is unpredictability in the shape of Mikkel Damsgaard, Eriksen's replacement in the starting XI, and Kasper Dolberg, who has three goals in the tournament including one against the Czechs.
The Czechs showed in the quarter-final that it is possible to gain the upper hand in midfield by having an extra man in that area. Jaroslav Silhavy's substitutions at half-time made an immediate impact and the Danes were under sustained pressure for 15 minutes until Hjulmand responded with his own double swap. But for that period of time the central midfielders Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg could not cope and after the changes Denmark were far less threatening going forward. The Czechs also showed that it is possible to get at the Danes in the air at set-pieces, although Tomas Soucek and Petr Sevcik did not manage to make the advantage count on this occasion.
Hjulmand prefers a 3-4-3 formation although he is not afraid to change the system. The key to the success is the wing-backs, Joakim Mæhle and either Jens Stryger Larsen or Daniel Wass, who have to cover an extraordinary amount of ground – and have done that so far. The fact that Mæhle has done so well on the wrong side of the pitch – he plays on the right side for Atalanta but on the left for the national team – speaks volumes about his adaptability.
The trio up front are also expected to track back and help the two central defenders. At one point during the game against the Czechs, around the half-hour, Dolberg, made a block just outside his own area. When the Czechs got the ball back and attempted another delivery, Damsgaard was there to prevent it reaching the danger area.
Dolberg and Damsgaard are the creative sparks up front with the latter extremely good at finding pockets of space between the opponents' defence and midfield. Damsgaard has been described as "the new Michael Laudrup" and seems to thrive at the biggest stage. He is only 21 years old. Barcelona's Martin Braithwaite – formerly of Middlesbrough – is the third component in the Danish attack and is a hard worker but offers less of a goal threat. RB Leipzig's Yussuf Poulsen has been coming off the bench in the past few games but has two goals in the tournament.
Hjulmand was originally supposed to take over from Hareide after Euro 2020 but because of the pandemic-enforced delay ended up coming in a year before the tournament. He has been a huge success. He shot to fame at Nordsjælland, winning the club's first league title in 2012. A failed stint at Mainz, where he replaced Thomas Tuchel, did not dampen his enthusiasm. He returned to Nordsjælland before being approached to take over the national team. "He has been very important," says Mæhle. "He is good at talking with the players and giving that freedom that many players need. He is a good coach and now a friend for us, too."
They can feel that the force is with them. They had incredible support at their first three home games at Parken and as the days have gone by the feeling that something special is in the making has only grown. For the Czech game they had T-shirts saying: “We are not going home, we are going on.” That match was arguably their most energy-sapping of them all so far in the tournament and Hjulmand had actually preferred to play the Netherlands because of the Czechs’ intensity and work-rate. The Danes looked tired after the game, certainly much more tired than the English players after their 4-0 victory against Ukraine.
It has not been the most punishing schedule for the Danes. They, like England, played all their group games at home and even the last-16 game did not feature a long trip as it was played in Amsterdam. However, a quarter-final in Baku has not helped the team as they now need to get back to Denmark before flying to London for the semi-final on Wednesday.