After a traumatic and emotionally exhausting opening game against Finland, it’s little wonder that Denmark took some time to find their feet at Euro 2020.
Whatever else happens from here on out, Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest on the pitch will be one of the most enduring memories of the tournament.
The match was controversially resumed after his condition was stabilised and the Danes meandered, dazed and drained, to a 1-0 loss. “We were put in a position that I personally do not feel we should be put in,” said goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel afterwards. “It probably required that someone above us had said that it was not the time to make a decision and maybe [it] should wait for the next day.”
With a narrow 2-1 defeat to Belgium in their second game, they had their work cut out for them to get out of the group stage let alone reach the quarter-finals. Over their last two matches, however, they have gone from a team which looked “elsewhere” mentally – in the words of forward Martin Braithwaite – to a side which seems intensely focused on the task at hand.
There’s little doubt that they have been galvanised by their desire to do Eriksen proud, with coach Kasper Hjulmand speaking openly about the emotional resonance of playing in Amsterdam – where Eriksen spent his formative years with Ajax – in the round of 16. Denmark went on to win 4-0 against Wales, following up on a 4-1 win against Russia in their final group game.
With eight goals scored in their last two matches, they are the tournament’s form side in attack. Nice forward Kasper Dolberg was lethal against Wales, Braithwaite is a danger and Mikkel Damsgaard has done an excellent job of deputising for Eriksen, but they also have dynamic midfielders in Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and a solid defence marshalled by the imperious Simon Kjær.
That said, the Czech Republic have proven to be a very difficult side to break down. Muscular in midfield, menacing at set pieces and with an attacking outlet in Patrik Schick, they were deserved 2-0 winners against the Netherlands in the last round and have only conceded two goals at Euro 2020 so far.
Whoever triumphs in Baku this evening will go on to play one of Ukraine or England in the semi-finals. As such, even as he puts the final touches on his preparations for the Three Lions’ trip to the Stadio Olimpico, Gareth Southgate will be following this game with interest.