Hoping for another title at Euro 2020, Denmark faces Finland
|Toronto Star 11 Jun 2021 at 07:39|
Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky didn’t sugar coat things when summing up the difference between his team and Denmark at the European Championship.
“They have better players than us in every position,” Hradecky said bluntly ahead of Finland’s major tournament debut at Euro 2020.
Then the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper touched on the one thing that could speak in his team’s favor going into Saturday’s Group B game in Copenhagen.
“But we have shown before that is greater than what people think,” he said.
Few would argue with either of Hradecky’s assessments.
While the closest thing Finland has to a star is Norwich striker Teemu Pukki, Denmark has an impressive spine that runs from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel up through the center-back pairing of Andreas Christensen and Simon Kjaer to Tottenham midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Inter Milan playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Finland, though, showed great cohesiveness in qualifying for its first major tournament under coach Markku Kanerva. That’s in part because the core of Kanerva’s team has been together since he led them to the Under-19 European Championship in 2009.
With that kind of tight-knit bond, Finland could spring a few surprises at Euro 2020. And Denmark, of course, knows all about springing an upset at this tournament — having won the 1992 European Championship in one of the sport’s biggest shocks.
Now Denmark has to deal with the status of being a big favorite — at least for one game. Russia and top-ranked Belgium are also in the group, which means a win against Finland is probably a must if Denmark is to advance to the round of 16.
And Denmark is already looking even further ahead than that. Because while many of the current Denmark players weren’t even born in 1992, that improbable title run clearly still lingers in their collective minds.
“The entire Danish people knows what happened in 1992,” said Eriksen, who was 4 months old when Denmark beat Germany in that final. “They’ve made movies and TV series about that (title), and every player from that team is still really well known in Denmark. Their legacy is enormous. They showed it’s possible to win a big tournament.“
Denmark has the added advantage of playing all three group games at its Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, where about 15,000 fans will be on hand against Finland. That number could increase to 25,000 for the next two games against Russia and Belgium after the government on Thursday announced it would ease pandemic restrictions.
It will be the first time Denmark plays a major tournament game at home.
“It’s something completely unique and something I’ll probably never experience again,” Schmeichel said. “I am really looking forward to it. But on the other hand, we must also keep a cool head and not get swept up in the emotions and the football fever that is happening in Denmark. We have to go in and do our job.”
The statistics are also heavily in Denmark’s favor. Finland has only won one of the last 22 meetings between the Nordic sides, with Denmark winning 15 of those. The last time Finland won in Denmark was in 1949.
Finland warmed up for the tournament with losses to Sweden and Estonia, and there is still uncertainty around Pukki’s fitness after he struggled with an ankle problem toward the end of the season.
Denmark, meanwhile, has only lost two of its last 23 games overall — both to group opponent Belgium — and went through Euro 2020 qualifying undefeated.
So perhaps Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand can be forgiven for also getting swept up in the talk about winning the Euros once again. And he went even further back in history when looking for inspiration, seemingly channeling Danish author Hans Christian Andersen as well.
“We have to believe in it,” Hjulmand said. “We are entering this tournament with a dream of a miracle. We are the country of fairy tales, so who knows.”