Did you ever think Denmark vs the Czech Republic would be one of the quarter-finals at Euro 2020? I never did. It was indeed a miracle that Denmark got out of Group B because no team had advanced to the knock-out round after losing their first two matches in the league.
The Danes and the Czechs should play out a fine match on Saturday because they had been superb in the round of 16. Not having the tag of favourites should help both bring out their natural game. I have a feeling that this tie has the potential to become the most entertaining in the last eight.
After the collapse of Christian Eriksen, it took enormous mental strength for Denmark to come out and play. They aren’t only playing; they are playing well. Coach Kasper Hjulmand revealed what is driving the team: “We are not only going to play for Christian. We are going to play for who we are, our identity and the whole of Denmark.”
Without Eriksen, Denmark weren’t expected to go deep into the tournament. He is their talisman. He was the top-scorer in the qualifiers with five goals. Even in his absence, Eriksen is inspiring his team-mates. Denmark are playing for him.
Emotion alone isn’t powering the Danes ahead. They have quality players all across the pitch. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has been exceptional in midfield with three assists. Youthful forwards Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg have served notice of their redoubtable talent.
Denmark know how to go all the way in Euro. They had done it in 1992, despite not qualifying for the tournament. Called up as the last minute replacement for the war-stricken Yugoslavia, the Scandinavian country went on to write the most romantic story in the history of Euros by winning the trophy itself.
The Czech Republic are no push-overs. With a title as Czechoslovakia in 1976 and a second-place as an independent nation in 1996, the Czechs know how to play football. The current team are smart if not anything else. The way they dismantled the Netherlands in the round of 16 was clinical. That the Dutch could muster no shot on target in 90 minutes was testimony to their opponents’ well-oiled defence.
In Patrik Schick, the Czech Republic potentially have a player of the tournament. He has a left- foot that is worth its weight in gold. Schick’s 45-metre goal against Scotland is one of the enduring memories of the tournament. With four goals, he is their top-scorer. But he needs support from others.
Denmark: Mikkel Damsgaard. The baby-faced forward is a star in the making. He is a complete package, as he can create and score with equal ease.
The Czech Republic: Tomas Soucek. After a brilliant season with West Ham, Soucek is leading his country at Euro 2020 from midfield. If scoring is the name of the game, Patrik Schick is the man for the Czechs but the forward needs supply from the likes of Soucek.
Formation: Denmark: 3-4-2-1. The Czech Republic: 4-2-3-1.
(The writer has covered the Fifa World Cup from South Africa, Brazil and Russia)