Friday, July 23, 2021

Dolberg double helps down Dragons as the Amsterdam connection serves Denmark well

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 26 Jun 2021

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Denmark know a thing or two about winning against all odds. While their 4-0 victory over Wales on Saturday may not fall into that exact category, it’s fair to say their Euro 2020 campaign is very much built on such a platform.

After all, the Danes’ greatest moment on the international stage, winning Euro 92, only occurred because of Yugoslavia’s disqualification that came about to the breakup of the country.

This year they’ve had to cope with the stress of Christian Eriksen’s health emergency in their group opener against Finland, the Inter midfielder suffering a cardiac arrest.

While Eriksen is on the mend, there’s no doubt Denmark’s inner resolve and desperation to honour the efforts of their team-mate have played a role in their performances – even if their second group game after the incident saw them suffer a slender defeat to Belgium.

The 4-1 win over Russia that followed saw Denmark become the first team in Euros history to lose their first two games but still qualify for the knockout phase. Qualification against all odds?

While Wales wanted to embrace a similar kind of ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude, just as they did when reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016, they were always going to be up against it versus Denmark – who essentially had a home crowd behind them in Amsterdam.

“We’re playing at Christian’s old home and we’re so excited to give it our all against Wales,” coach Kasper Hjulmand said in the build-up. “There is a huge connection between Amsterdam – and especially Ajax – and Danish football.”

Wales defender Connor Roberts had suggested “99 per cent of the world” would be cheering on Denmark, a situation that Danny Ward said helped in creating a “siege mentality” in the Welsh ranks.

And there was certainly evidence of that fired-up attitude throughout, such as Wales’ promising start that had them 7-1 up on the shot count (even if several were blocked) after the 18th minute, the fact Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon looked to be picking scraps wherever possible, and then there was the late red card for Harry Wilson.

Yet Wales seemed unable to tap into that adrenaline for long and Denmark began to look every inch a home side, with the fans – whether they were Danish or Dutch – seemingly responding to Hjulmand’s request for the Johan Cruijff ArenA to be more red-and-white than orange.

It was only fitting, then, that Kasper Dolberg was the man to take the match by the scruff of the neck.

The former Ajax prodigy was considered one of the world’s biggest young talents after coming through the academy in Amsterdam. While his career probably hasn’t hit the heights some would have expected during his breakout in the Netherlands, there’s no doubt he will have made plenty sit up and take note on Saturday.

He opened the scoring in the 27th minute, receiving a pass inside from the left courtesy of Mikkel Damsgaard, taking a touch to his right to open up a little space before rifling a gorgeous effort into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.

The Nice forward almost certainly wouldn’t have started were it not for an injury to Yussuf Poulsen, but here he was, back where he made his name, doing it all over again.

His subsequent celebration, as he stood where he shot with his arms stretched outwards at his sides, reminiscent of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. “Are you not entertained?”

Well, as it happened, he would get another just after the break.

Neco Williams’ clearance from Martin Braithwaite’s low cross summed up much of Wales’ play – panicked and utterly lacking in conviction.

Dolberg was on hand to slam an unstoppable effort into that bottom-right corner again, and from there it never looked like being anything other than a comfortable Denmark win.

In truth, Wales’ setup in the group stage provided little inspiration that they would’ve been able to chase any kind of deficit. They only forced six high turnovers, the joint-fewest of any team, while their expected goals against of 4.8 was only lower than four other teams, all of whom finished bottom of their groups.

To maintain that level and succeed against a Denmark side who were among the most-effective sides in terms of pressing (37 high turnovers, second only to the Netherlands) and also capable of mixing up their play (more ‘direct attacks’ than anyone else but also only bettered by Spain and Italy in terms of ‘build-ups) was going to be a tall order.

While Wales made some desperate forays forward towards the end, late goals from Joakim Maehle and Braithwaite were just rewards for Denmark’s excellent game management. 

But as good as Atalanta star Maehle was (again), the day belonged to Dolberg.

Back in Amsterdam, where both he and Eriksen set out on their journeys, Dolberg’s brace sent Denmark on their way to a first quarter-final at a major tournament since 2004.

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