Danish dark horses serving up style and substance
Denmark’s football history has been defined by two teams. One of them caused a sensation by winning the UEFA EURO 1992, while the other was thumped 5-1 by Spain and dumped out at the last 16 of the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
The fact that the latter continues to command more affection might raise a few eyebrows. But this is a nation in which the achievement of that determined, functional ’92 side is balanced against the flamboyance of their ostensibly less successful predecessors.
Kasper Hjulmand, the current coach, summed it up perfectly. “People can say that that 1980s team didn’t win anything, but they won hearts; football fans across the world were talking about them,” he told FIFA last year. “It was a team that made a real impact with the football they played, and I think that’s a big thing.”
Hjulmand is not, however, a hopeless romantic preaching style over substance. His plan all along has been to mould a team that combines the best of both worlds – of ’86 and ’92 – by achieving success in a manner that delights Danes and impresses neutrals.
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His side came close to glory at EURO 2020, having somehow recovered from the trauma of their star player’s on-field cardiac arrest in the opening match to enjoy a goal-laden run to the semi-finals. Even more impressive was their form in World Cup qualifying, with a place at Qatar 2022 secured with a couple of games to spare – and without a point having been dropped or a goal conceded. Add to that two UEFA Nations League wins over the world champions in the space of just four months, and it’s easy to see why the Danes are being discussed as potential title contenders.
The style with which they have done all of this, allied to the personal qualities Hjulmand and his players displayed in the wake of Christian Eriksen’s collapse, has already led to suggestions they could eclipse those teams of ’86 and ’92 in the nation’s hearts. And the man in charge knows what will be required to ensure that happens.
“We have two goals with this team: one is to win something, and the other is to inspire and unite our country,” he has said. “Right now we can really feel that we’re doing that second part. The next step, of course, is to win.”