Denmark is both disappointed and hopeful as it exits Euro 2020
LONDON, United Kingdom — Kasper Hjulmand does not strike you as an angry guy in the immediate aftermath of Denmark’s Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of England on Wednesday. Rather, the feeling emanating from his laptop screen during his remote press conference is that of a dissatisfied and perplexed man.
(VAR) did not refer to referee!
The penalty awarded to England at the end of the first session of extra time is what Hjulmand is referring to. The one where Raheem Sterling fell down after skipping by Joakim Maehle. The one that was granted despite the fact that there were two balls on the pitch seconds before and play had not been stopped, as it usually is in these situations.
Clear and apparent
This is not the time to remind out that England generated more opportunities and are more than deserving finalists on balance of play. Or that the second ball on the pitch had no bearing on the game. Or that VAR is only intended to interfere when “clear and apparent” mistakes occur, and that even if Makkelie did commit an error, it wasn’t always plain and obvious.
“Brought him back.”
Rather, it felt like a good opportunity to reflect on Denmark’s experiences in this competition. And how the accomplishments of this group of players and personnel will be remembered. They saw their teammate and finest player Christian Eriksen fall on the field and “leave us,” as their own medical staff put it, until a supernatural and scientific combination “brought him back.” Then they found themselves back on the field, playing a football match against Finland, which must have seemed completely meaningless.
A fairy tale coming back
They lost that game, as well as the following one against Belgium, before experiencing a fairy-tale comeback that would appear impossible even in fan fiction. And by making it to the semifinals, they became the favorite of the neutrals, the darlings of everyone who had no stake in the game. Part of it was the Eriksen story, part of it was Mikkel Damsgaard’s fresh-faced, next-man-up quality, part of it was Simon Kjaer’s leadership, Kasper Schmeichel’s scowl, and Maehle’s drive. All of it was the result of Denmark uniting and believing in the impossible.
They had faith till end
At Wembley, they had cause to believe as well. They seized the lead in the first half despite being outgunned, outmanned, and out-supported, thanks to a combination of quality (Damsgaard’s honey sweet strike) and resourcefulness (the Danish players lining up to screen England keeper Jordan Pickford). Even when England equalized before the interval, Hjulmand believed the game was still his to win.
Even when his players began to drop one by one, he maintained his faith. In the last 23 minutes of normal time, he would make five replacements, all of which were enforced.
On the verge of collapsing
Denmark was on the verge of collapsing. Despite this, they persisted. Right up until the second ball appeared on the pitch and Sterling was knocked down. Because this game can be exceptionally harsh, Schmeichel’s parry of Harry Kane’s shot gave the appearance of yet another miracle. That one just lasted a fraction of a second before Kane came back and poked the ball home. And, since there’s no limit to the misery that can be inflicted when things start going against you, they played the final 15 minutes with 10 men, when Mathias Jensen went down hurt following Hjulmand’s final substitute — the only one that wasn’t enforced.
Tripped up at the final hurdle
Is this more painful than dropping out at the group stage, as many predicted following the two first-round losses? In certain senses, the answer is most likely yes. You could end yourself believing more than you should when you overcome the challenges and obstacles that Denmark has faced. It usually stings worse when you are tripped up at the final hurdle. Not simply for Denmark’s sake. Anyone who witnessed them struggle their way through this tournament, fight their way through the darkness into the light, and stand strong at Wembley until they were felled by a decision few comprehend will discover that their future is a bit brighter.