KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Denmark, inspired by the emotion generated from the Christian Eriksen trauma, are off into the round of 16 at Euro 2020 after beating Russia 4-1 in Copenhagen.
The Danes achieved a fairytale recovery, in the land of Hans Christian Andersen, and will now play Wales in Amsterdam on Saturday as Group B runners-up. Belgium, top of the table, will play one of the third-placed teams in Seville on Sunday.
Denmark, ironically, had some assistance from St Petersburg where Belgium beat tournament newcomers Finland 2-0 with two late goals. If the Finns had clung on for a goalless draw they would have finished runners-up instead of the Danes.
Earlier, in Group C, Austria grabbed a guaranteed place in the knockout stage by defeating Ukraine 1-0 in Bucharest.
Victory saw Austria overtake Ukraine and claim second place behind the Netherlands while Andriy Shevchenko’s men are uncertain of progress as one of the best third-placed teams.
However the most nerve-shredding drama was reserved for a night of rare football passion in Copenhagen, in the same Parken Stadion where Danish captain and playmaker Eriksen had suffered his cardiac arrest nine days earlier.
Onward and upward
Denmark kicked off bottom of the Group B table with no points.
Yet they never doubted their ability to turn the Euro on its head and stormed into a first-half lead with a superb goal from Mikkel Damsgaard. Just before hour Yusuf Poulsen struck a second, punishing an awful back pass by Daler Kuzyaev.
Russia pulled one back with a penalty converted by Artem Dziuba but the Danes, roared forward relentlessly by their home crowd, struck twice more, magnificently, in three minutes through Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle.
That all added up to to a sporting night Copenhagen will never forget.
In the previous Group C deciders highly-rated Christoph Baumgartner jabbed Austria’s winner against Ukraine in the 21st minute from a left wing corner by the inspirational David Alaba. The Hoffenheim midfielder thus became, at 20, the youngest marksman in these finals.
Coach Franco Foda’s Austrians will renew one of the great old European football rivalries against Italy at Wembley on Saturday. This will be Austria’s first appearance in a knockout stage of a major tournament since the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.
The other, simultaneous, match saw Netherlands defeat North Macedonia 3-0 on goals from Memphis Depay and Ginio Wijnaldum (two).
Victory confirmed Netherlands as group winners with a 100pc record. North Macedonia, appearing in their first major tournament finals, were already doomed to follow Turkey on the early flights home.
Russia, of course, will be joining them.
Group B: Belgium v North Macedonia
Markku Kanerva, Finland coach: “We were a little unlucky with the first goal. I’m disappointed we couldn’t get a point. We now have a little, little chance of going through, but I’m proud of our performance in the tournament. We showed we belong here.”
Roberto Martínez, Belgium coach: “We were really focussed, professional. We defended very well and waited for the first goal. We knew that would open everything up. We were almost there in the first half but we adapted to a difficult team. Finland have had a great tournament, and we had to be at our best to get the win today.”
Finland: Hradecky – Toivio, Arajuuri, O’Shaughnessy – Raitala, Lod, Sparv (Schüller 59), Kamara, Uronen – Pohjanpalo, Pukki.
Belgium: Courtois – Boyata, Denayer, Vermaelen – Trossard, De Bruyne, Witsel, Chadli – Doku, Lukaku, E Hazard.
Referee: Brych (Ger).
Group B: Denmark v Russia
Yussuf Poulsen, Denmark forward: “We were facing a team that defended well, especially in the first 60 minutes. Then we found the rhythm we needed to break them down. It was hard in the first half, but we did what we needed to. It was a fantastic piece of play from Damsgaard that opened it all up.”
Mikkel Damsgaard, Denmark forward: “It’s insane that we are through – this team, all of the players! It’s a great feeling. It’s fantastic to be part of this. I’d never dreamed of being part of something so great.”
Kasper Hjulmand, Denmark coach: “I’m out of words regarding my admiration for this team. They are so strong. I want to thank all of Denmark, the [fans in the] stadium. The love and care that the whole of Denmark has shown us helped the boys’ power go into their legs and out in this stadium.”
Stanislav Cherchesov, Russia coach: “I thanked the guys for what they’ve done. They were up for this game but it just didn’t go our way. We could have taken our chances in the first half but didn’t, then conceded a goal from a half-chance and couldn’t get back in the game. We have to think about all of this and move forward.”
Artem Dzyuba, Russia captain: “The first goal was out of the blue. Everything was working out but we did not score from good chances – and at this level, that is not forgiven.”
Russia: Safonov – Mário Fernandes, Diveev, Dzhikiya, Kudryashov (Karavaev 67), Kuzyaev (Mukhin 67) – Ozdoev (Zhemaletdinov 61), Zobnin – Aleksei Miranchuk (Sobolev 61), Golovin – Dzyuba.
Denmark: Schmeichel – Christensen, Kjær, Vestergaard – Wass (Stryger 60), Hojbjerg, Delaney (Jensen 85), Mæhle – Braithwaite (Cornelius 85), Poulsen (Dolberg 60), Damsgaard (Nørgaard 72).
Referee: Turpin (Fra).
Group C: North Macedonia v Netherlands
Igor Angelovski, North Macedonia coach: “This is my last press conference in this capacity as my contract with North Macedonia expires on 31 July. It’s been an honour to be at the helm of this team at a European Championship. We wanted to do better but no one should be disappointed because it was our debut on the big stage and all I can do is thank the players for their effort. This team made history by reaching EURO 2020 and we must thank Pandev for everything he has done for North Macedonia football. It has been a privilege to work for five and a half years with a man and a player who led by example and set the bar high for future generations.”
Frank de Boer, Netherlands coach: “I think we had some great moments during the game, but also some bad ones. During the first half we were sloppy. We left ourselves exposed on the counter. That’s something we talked about at half-time, though I think overall we can feel very positive.”
North Macedonia: Dimitrievski – S Ristovski, Velkovski, Musliu, Alioski Ademi (Nikolov 78) – Bardi (Stojanovski 78), Tričkovski (Churlinov 56), Elmas – Trajkovski (Hasani 68), Pandev (Kostadinov 69).
Netherlands: Stekelenburg – Dumfries (Berghuis 46), De Vrij (Timber 46), De Ligt, Blind, Van Aanholt – F de Jong (Gakpo 79), Wijnaldum, Gravenberch – Depay (Weghorst 66), Malen (Promes 66).
Referee: Kovacs (Rom).
Group C – Ukraine v Austria
Franco Foda, Austria coach: “It’s just so cool. I think the boys performed fantastically today. We were determined to reach the round of 16; we wanted to write history. You could see the boys took that on board and showed from the first minute that we wanted to win the game. I’m very proud of my team.”
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine coach: “It was an extremely hard game, especially physically. We lost individual duels and committed errors. I saw a team that lacked energy. We gave everything in the second half but sometimes you have these games where whatever you do, nothing goes well. Sooner or later it leads to mistakes. We lost a simple ball in midfield, then conceded that corner and the goal. After that, we largely didn’t have a chance to get back into game.”
Ukraine: Bushchan – Karavaev, Zabarnyi, Matviyenko, Mykolenko (Besedin 85) – Sydorchuk – Yarmolenko, Shaparenko (Marlos 68), Zinchenko, Malinovskyi (Tsygankov 46) – Yaremchuk.
Austria: Bachmann – Lainer, Dragović, Hinteregger, Alaba – X. Schlager, Laimer (Ilsanker 72), Grillitsch – Baumgartner (Schöpf 32), Sabitzer – Arnautović (Kalajdzic 90).
Referee: Cakir (Turkey).