Global Affairs

Euro 2020: Wales to be ruthless against neutrals’ favourites Denmark

Venue: Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam Date: Saturday, 26 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC One and S4C, live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text and score updates

Wales were loved at Euro 2016, underdogs winning new admirers, as they exceeded all expectations on a joyous ride to the semi-finals.

On Saturday, Wales are back for more in the knockout stages of a European Championship but, perhaps for the first time in their brief experience of playing at major tournaments, they will not be the neutrals’ choice.

That tag belongs to their second-round opponents, Denmark, whose progress to the last 16 has been the uplifting story of Euro 2020.

It is a tale forged in trauma, their opening game against Finland plunged into darkness when midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch after suffering a cardiac arrest. The home crowd in Copenhagen was stunned into silence by an incident which shook the football world.

Denmark’s players were visibly distraught. When Eriksen was taken to hospital and it became apparent he was recovering, some of his team-mates were overwhelmed when the game restarted and unable to continue.

Losing to Finland felt irrelevant after such an incident but, once Eriksen was well enough to speak to his colleagues from hospital and urge them on, the team became imbued with an unbreakable determination to succeed.

“What you can get after a shared sense of trauma is something called ‘trauma bonding’. That is when a team will become even closer because of that shared experience,” says Dr Gillian Cook, a lecturer in sports psychology at Liverpool John Moores University and sports psychologist for Dundee United.

“What you find from this sort of event is that people’s values and sense of purpose can very much change. They can go out there with a renewed mission and sense of purpose.

“Christian Eriksen said that the players should absolutely do it for Denmark so I think there will be a lot of will, a lot of effort for that mission to do it for him and do it for Denmark.”

That was evident in Denmark’s other group matches. After a stirring performance almost gave them victory over Belgium, the world’s number one-ranked side, the Danes needed to beat Russia in Copenhagen in their final group game, and they rose to the challenge magnificently.

Urged on by a highly-charged home crowd, the team thrived on the emotion of the occasion to win 4-1. Head coach Kasper Hjulmand said his side were thinking about Eriksen “all the way” and it was hard not to be moved by the scenes at the same stadium where the Inter Milan midfielder had collapsed on the pitch just nine days earlier.

“With those pictures of the Danish players celebrating on the pitch together, I think it’s one of the pictures of the group stages – it was almost a feeling of football is back,” former Denmark and Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby told BBC Radio Wales.

“Football is about emotions and passion and we had that in spades in the Denmark-Russia game.”

Wales to end the fairy-tale?

That match sealed Denmark’s status as the heroes of Euro 2020 so far.

Wales defender Connor Roberts has said “99% of the world” will be supporting the Danes in Amsterdam, while goalkeeper Danny Ward believes that is helping create a “siege mentality” among Welsh players.

Wales understand how this game is likely to be perceived among neutrals – but they want to end the fairy-tale.

“Obviously, what happened to Christian Eriksen is horrible,” said striker Kieffer Moore. “It is good to see him back and in good health.

“But that takes nothing away from how we’re going to prepare and how we’re going to go to the game to win.”

Hjulmand has described this meeting as a “50-50” game, though his Danish side are viewed as favourites given their superior tournament pedigree and the fact they beat Wales twice during the 2018-19 Nations League.

In terms of Euro 2020, however, there is an element of the unknown for Denmark in Amsterdam, their first match of the competition away from Copenhagen.

“It might not sound quite right when I say this, but the Belgium and Russia games in many ways were easy games because the energy was in the stadium already,” says Molby.

“I was at both of those matches and the build-up in Copenhagen was incredible, so that took care of itself. Now it’s a totally different challenge, playing in Amsterdam.

“I guess we will sell the tickets we have but it will be nowhere near the atmosphere we’ve experienced so far, so it’s almost like starting the tournament all over again.

“We don’t know what to expect and we could end up with a situation where on the day we’re just flat, we can’t find the energy. I hope not but as of yet we don’t quite know.”

Denmark will still have a few thousand fans travelling to the Johan Cruyff Arena – and the predominantly neutral crowd are bound to be on their side after recent events.

“The players and Hjulmand have said that they appreciate the support they have received from everyone in the football world,” says Sara Margren, a journalist with Danish football website Bold.

“They really feel the togetherness and sympathy from the outside.

“They have only played at home, so they have not been able to see if neutral fans will cheer them on. But on social media it is clear that many neutral football fans have sympathy for Denmark because of the Eriksen incident, and maybe it will be even more if Denmark go far at the tournament.”

Whereas Denmark have had the luxury of playing all their group matches at home, Wales have taken the long road to the last 16.

They travelled thousands of miles to Azerbaijan for their first two group games before facing Italy in Rome. Having silenced more than 30,000 Turkey fans to win in Baku, Wales want to do the same to those supporting Denmark on Saturday.

“We’ve been everywhere and Amsterdam will be another challenge,” says centre-back Joe Rodon.

“It’s something to be excited for. Playing Turkey was a challenge we loved and winning was a great feeling. We can’t wait.”

Like the rest of the world, Wales wish Eriksen well. Ben Davies is a good friend of the Dane from their time together at Tottenham Hotspur, and the Wales defender spoke movingly about his concern for Eriksen after his cardiac arrest and how relieved he was to have had a phone conversation with him since.

But once kick-off comes around, Wales will be ruthless.

“We wish him all the best in his recovery,” says manager Robert Page. “But Saturday will be a game we want to win, no emotions attached to that.”

Pick your team for Wales’ last 16 game at Euro 2020 – and then share it with your friends

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