Denmark is a nation united behind its football team after they charged into the Euro 2020 knockouts on a cathartic night in Copenhagen which sets them up well for the rest of the tournament.
Considered by many a dark horse before the Euro started thanks to a squad packed with talent, Denmark will face Wales in the last 16 and on the evidence of Monday’s thrilling 4-1 thumping of Russia will be favourites to make the last eight.
Before the tournament started, coach Kasper Hjulmand said he wanted his side to “dare to dream” of going all the way as in 1992, and on Monday their resolve shone through after a rough fortnight in which the players had to deal with seeing teammate Christian Eriksen nearly die on the pitch.
Asked how he managed to hold things together for the team after they secured a spot in the next round, Hjulmand said: “I have a great team around me, great staff, great people around me, great players.”
“I think the only way I can tell it is we are a unit. It’s not one person, it’s not me or anything else, it’s a unit,” he added.
“We’re backing each other up and that is the best within Denmark I think, the best values we can show that we stand united, we are helping each other.”
Having lost their first two matches in the aftermath of Eriksen’s sudden cardiac arrest midway through their opener against Finland, the Danes came into Monday’s match with their tournament status in danger.
They needed eventual Group B winners Belgium to beat Finland and a win by two goals or more — or a single-goal win by any other score than 1-0 — over the Russians.
– ‘Thinking about Christian’ –
Mikkel Damsgaard gave Denmark the lead with a stunning curling strike shortly before the break but it wasn’t until Yussuf Poulsen capitalised on Daler Kuzyaev’s horrendous backpass to tap into an open goal on the hour mark that the rowdy fans packed into the Parken Stadium knew the knockouts were within their grasp.
After one false alarm in Saint Petersburg — and in the meantime, a Russia penalty — Belgium finally took the lead through a Lukas Hradecky own goal and the partying started in beer-soaked stands, helped by two late goals in quick succession from Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle which completed the rout.
“We hoped that it would be a magic night,” said Hjulmand.
“When we heard about Belgium I thought that it was OK that we had 2-0, and then when Belgium’s goal was disallowed we got a little nervous. But when they scored one more time we got more stable.”
Monday’s match felt like the true beginning of the Euro campaign for Denmark after their traumatic opening week, the first time since Eriksen’s fall that the football was the main story.
During the match’s opening ceremony fans roared as a huge Denmark shirt with “Eriksen 10” written on it was unfurled, and Hjulmand said his team were playing in honour of their close friend.
“The team spirit we have and how everyone contributed is amazing, and then mixing it up with amazing performances it’s just fantastic,” he said.
“It’s hard to describe what this team has been through the past four weeks. We’re thinking about Cristian all the way.”