On Friday, November 16, 2018, Wales welcomed Denmark to Cardiff in what was to be a proper showdown when it came to topping their Nations League group – League B, Group 4. A win would’ve seen Wales come out on top, while the same applied to Denmark. However, a draw would have also suited the visitors just fine, as they would then only need to beat the so far insipid Republic of Ireland to secure the top spot for themselves.
Wales manager Ryan Giggs was without Tottenham Hotspur fullback Ben Davies who was suspended, while Neil Taylor and Chris Mepham had to pull out.
The former Manchester United winger put Wayne Hennessey in goal. Connor Roberts on the right, the duo of Ashley Williams and James Chester in the middle and Paul Dummett on the left formed the back four. Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey were in the middle of the park flanked by David Brooks and Tom Lawrence, while Gareth Bale played off striker Tyler Roberts.
Denmark came to Wales without captain Simon Kjaer due the defender suffering a hamstring injury. Goalkeeper Jonas Lossl and forward Viktor Fischer also missed out.
With that in mind, manager Aage Hareide put Kasper Schmeichel between the posts. In the heart of defence he named Mathias Jorgensen and Andreas Christensen, with Stryger Larsen on the left and Henrik Dalsgaard on the right. Thomas Delaney and Lasse Schone sat deep in midfield with Christian Eriksen further up. In attack, striker Nicolai Jorgensen was flanked by Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen.
The First Half
Neither team seemed to have come into the match to defend, and they tried to get the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible. It was Denmark who threatened first through Eriksen, who made a good run through the middle three minutes in and fired one from around 20 yards, and he just missed the near top corner.
The early momentum thus swung the visitors’ way and they pushed Wales far back for a while. Three minutes after Eriksen, Delaney tried his luck too from a bigger distance but with the same outcome. The duo of Braithwaite and Larson on the left, helped by Eriksen who often went that way too, gave the home side a lot of trouble for a few minutes down the flank.
But with less than 10 minutes gone the momentum suddenly changed and Wales came very close to taking the lead twice in quick succession. First Bale made use of the space unwisely left for him by the Danes and burned the palms of Schmeichel from 25 yards, and after the ensuing corner, Chester just missed the target with a towering header. Denmark tried to recompose themselves but Wales soon looked dangerous again as Brooks made a great run from deep to the edge of the box where he employed Lawrence, but Lawrence’s shot was harmlessly deflected. Chester then came close again with another header.
It seemed Giggs’ team had settled well into the contest by staying deep, defending and looking to hit on the counterattack. Although they dominated possession and tried to control the game, the Danes looked anything but comfortable. Tyler Roberts worked hard upfront to keep the opposition centre-backs in a deep position, thus creating space behind Denmark’s midfield for Bale to work in. And as the game progressed, the Welsh got notably more confident, even keeping possession for longer spells and applying patient buildup.
With half an hour gone, Denmark pushed forward again but apart from a failed run by Nicolai Jorgensen, another wild shot by Delaney and a wrongly given offside decision on Braithwaite, they didn’t create anything. Bale almost punished them soon afterwards as he beat his marker in the air to reach a lovely cross by Roberts, but he just missed the target from six yards.
Wales suffered a blow in the 38th minute, with Paul Dummett forced off with an injury. Chris Gunter came on for his 92nd cap, equaling the Wales record held by Neville Southall.
Gunter was called into action straight away and stopped Delaney from scoring with a header as Braithwaite did some good work on the left flank and delivered an excellent cross. And as the home team pushed forward, Delaney, Poulsen and Nicolai Jorgensen performed a fantastic counterattack and Jorgensen slotted past Hennesey to give Denmark the lead three minutes before the break.
Wales pushed hard looking for an equalizer for the rest of the half, but the visitors had closed their ranks and held on tightly.
The Second Half
It went from bad to worse for Wales just four minutes after the break. After Brooks failed to equalize with a volley from a favorable position, Chester became their second player to leave the pitch injured. Ethan Ampadu came on.
However, the home team soon started pushing for an equalizer harder than ever. Brooks again came close with a long-range effort that left Schmeichel rooted the the spot and missed the target by an inch or two. Lawrence had a go next but he blasted his shot straight at the Danish ‘keeper, who soon afterwards saved another attempt from Brooks.
In the 68th minute, Tyler Roberts was replaced by Harry Wilson who went to the right wing, while Bale took up the central attacking position. Two minutes later, Hareide made his first move of the game by bringing on Kasper Dolberg for goalscorer Jorgensen.
With 15 minutes to go, Poulsen had a chance to settle the game as some brilliant passing by Schone and Eriksen set him up. When the moment came, he blasted his shot from 18 yards over the bar. Two minutes later, Lawrence earned a booking for elbowing the head of Schone who was then taken off with a bloody head. Lukas Lerager came in to take his position. Then it was Delaney’s turn to get into the book by taking Wilson out some 30 yards from the goal.
Bale stepped up and hit the very top corner, but Schmeichel flew through the air and made a stunning save.
In the 85th minute, Dolberg received a yellow card and he shall consider himself lucky that he wasn’t sent off. His foul on Ampadu was extremely cynical, but the Wales defender wasn’t left indebted as he returned the favor and knocked Dolberg to the ground with a blow from behind just 60 seconds later.
And just as the game looked destined to end in high tension, it suddenly took a sharp turn. Denmark had a throw-in taken long. Poulsen extended it towards Braithwaite who took it on the chest and slammed it into the top corner, doubling Denmark’s lead. However, Ampadu, who was largely at fault for Braithwaite’s goal, redeemed himself with a fantastic long pass that saw Bale break through, round Schmeichel and put it in the net only a minute after Denmark’s second.
Despite five whole minutes being added on top of the 90, Denmark successfully wasted time, frustrated their hosts in the process, and eventually won the game.
It was an unusual match altogether. Both teams had some inspired individuals, but Denmark were the better organized unit with the likes of Eriksen, Delaney and Schone doing a lot more in the middle of the park than Ramsey and Allen. Both of Wales’ central midfielders are quite capable of pulling the strings from deep, but their influence in this game was bordering on non-existent.
On the other hand, Brooks, Lawrence, and late on Wilson, constantly looked sharp, but they lacked support from deeper positions.
In the end, the visitors deserved their win. They held out through several spells under pressure, they didn’t create too much upfront but they took their chances. They travel from Wales safely nestled on the top of the League B Group 4 table as they prepare to take on Ireland, in what will now basically be a friendly game of football.
WALES: Hennessey 7, Williams 6.5, Chester 7.5 (50′ Ampadu 6.5), C. Roberts 7, Dummett 6.5 (38′ Gunter 7), Allen 5, Ramsey 5, Brooks 7.5, Lawrence 7.5, Bale 7.5, T. Roberts 7 (68′ Wilson 7).
DENMARK: Schmeichel 8, M. Jorgensen 7, Christensen 6.5, Dalsgaard 7, Stryger 7.5, Delaney 7.5, Schone 7 (79′ Lerager N/A), Eriksen 7.5, Braithwaite 7.5, Poulsen 7, N. Jorgensen 7.5 (70′ Dolberg 5.5).
GOALS: N. Jorgensen 43′, Braithwaite 88′, Bale 89′.
YELLOW CARDS: Dummett 38′, Halsgaard 52′, Lawrence 77′, Dolberg 85′, Ampadu 86′, Williams 87′, Schmeichel 90′.
REFEREE: Ivan Kuzliak (Slovakia).
DATE & VENUE: November 16, 2018, Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.
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