Denmark were worthy and impressive winners against Wales as they became the first team to progress to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, but it is their team spirit they can be most proud of.
One exceptionally well taken goal from Kasper Dolberg, and an opportunistic second from the 23-year-old Nice forward was enough to secure passage for the Danes before a crushing Maehle third and then a fourth from Martin Braithwaite in stoppage time.. They were up against a Wales side who appeared to have brushed up against their limits.
The problems for Wales are obvious. They have a limited number of top quality players, and at least one of them appears to be coming to the end of his career, with Gareth Bale now just very good, rather than dangerously brilliant. There is no shame in how and when their involvement in the tournament ended, but with the talent they do still have, there must be some feeling that more was possible, perhaps if their manager had been at the tournament.
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Denmark of course, has hardly had the ideal start. They had to watch as Christian Eriksen almost die on the pitch, playing for his country before collapsing. It was hard to be optimistic when watching the scenes. Now, though, while nobody wanted it to happen and can’t celebrate the event, it appears that the shock that Eriksen’s near-death experience has sparked the squad into an impressively solid team.
That was on show the moment it became clear that Eriksen was in real trouble. The players guarded their friend and colleague from the attention of the media, and the intense, almost physical observation from the crowd. One of them went to attend to his partner, not thinking just of himself but of the wider implications of the incident.
Some managers use artifice to inculcate a notion of a siege mentality. Kenny Dalglish, upon his return to Liverpool, picked a fight with Manchester United over the potential transfer of Phil Jones from Blackburn. He then produced a siege mentality by supporting Luis Suarez after he had racially abused Patrice Evra, all fundamentally in order to foster a sense of team spirit. Obviously inexcusable, but not the only attempt of its kind.
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Look at Jose Mourinho, picking fights with fans, opponents, television channels, UNICEF and anything and everything in between. His sense of aggro led him to a dispute with one of his medical staff, and his treatment of Eva Carneiro was a pitiful disgrace. Elsewhere, Alex Ferguson might have been the greatest boss of his era, but the needling aimed towards journalists and some largely blameless players is a stain on his character, however effective he might have believed it to be. For these managers, it worked often enough for them to embrace it for years.
For Denmark, perhaps there is something similar happening. They have had a dramatic, unscripted and unbearable experience. Something outside football threatened to derail it entirely. They were stretched to the limits of what they could tolerate emotionally, and in that moment they discovered friendship, camaraderie, and a deeper understanding of who and what they are playing for.
You can see that this might be at play on the pitch. Kasper Dolberg is far from a poor player, but he was a huge figure against Wales with his interventions. Mikkel Damsgaard has a single season in European top flight football, but has impressed so consistently that he has reportedly attracted the attention of Barcelona. A Dane already in Catalan, Martin Braithwaite, has at times been at the height of his powers.
In decades past, the Danes have had some wild times. Preben Elkjaer and the Danish Dynamite era was perhaps their most glamorous. Peter Schmeichel and the rest of his colleagues’ surprise entry in the 1992 tournament ended in victory. But the years in between have been a struggle. They will likely fail to pull off such an upset in 2021, but they may feel just the same sense of achievement for what they have shown both on and off the pitch, to the spectators back home in Denmark, and everyone else who gives them their support.
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