Denmark revels in the joy of football and its new national heroes

Denmark players celebrate in front of their fans following their 2-1 win over Russia in Copenhagen on Monday. The victory sets up a round of 16 meeting with Wales (Getty)
Denmark players celebrate in front of their fans following their 2-1 win over Russia in Copenhagen on Monday. The victory sets up a round of 16 meeting with Wales (Getty)

Those iconic moments are what football fans live for. The goals. The joy. The togetherness. Sometimes, those iconic moments can live forever in the common photo album of a nation.

In Denmark everyone remembers the Eighties when Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjaer Larsen and Frank Arnesen thrilled the world with entertaining football. They remember the sensational 1992 European Championship with Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup leading the way to the most surprising of title wins.

On Monday night, the Danes got some new iconic moments for the photo album, when an astonishing display produced a 4-1 win against Russia, securing a spot in the round of 16 at the Euros. They will play Wales on Saturday after one of the most memorable nights in Danish football.

Nine days after the traumatic opening match, when Christian Eriksen collapsed, leaving the whole country in a state of shock, the Danes can now celebrate in the most electric and joyful atmosphere for decades. It has been some emotional ride, and the Danes have gone from collective sorrow and despair to a festival of love. Love for Christian Eriksen. Love for football. Love for the country.

In the eye of the love storm stands the national team. People have been sceptical for years, but the events of this summer have made a special connection between the players and the people. Monday night everything culminated in front of 25,000 ecstatic spectators in Parken Stadium, Copenhagen.

“We were hoping for a magical night in Parken,” head coach Kasper Hjulmand said after the match.

It was indeed a magical night.

All day long, the streets of the Danish capital were coloured red and white by the home fans. National flags were hanging from windows, and several hours before kick-off people were singing in the streets: “We are red, we are white, we are Danish dynamite” – the popular chant first coined for the 1986 Mexico World Cup.

Still, the tension was high during the first half of the Russia game. Denmark needed to win to advance in the tournament, but despite the support from the stands, they struggled against a strong Russian defence. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was forced to make an important save, and Denmark could not break through the Russian wall.

Not, that is, until the 38th minute, when Pierre Emile Hojbjerg found Mikkel Damsgaard at the edge of the penalty area; the 20-year-old curled the ball inside the right-hand post, scoring one of the best goals of the tournament. Damsgaard, only playing his fifth international, was one of the heroes of the night. Weeks ago, he was unknown to most of the Danish population – from now on, he will be a household name.

In that moment, the stands of Parken exploded. For some odd reason, a lot of Danes celebrated by throwing beers towards the field, making a beer shower for their fellow spectators, but no one cared. It was pure joy, as the crowd applauded the players to the dressing room at half-time. Still, everyone’s thoughts were in St Petersburg, where Denmark needed a Belgium win against Finland to secure second place in the group.

The home side kept pushing for goals after the break, and a Russian mistake midway through the half gifted Yussuf Poulsen’s second goal of the tournament. Even better, news of a goal from Romelu Lukaku in St Petersburg sparked more joyous celebrations in the stands. But then time stood still in Copenhagen again; the goal was disallowed almost exactly at the same time Russia converted a penalty. Suddenly, hopes weren’t that high.

The Danish players, though, didn’t seem to be that bothered. They kept attacking, playing rock’n’roll football. Midfield hard hitter Thomas Delaney was working like crazy. Left back youngster Joakim Maehle was sprinting up and down the line, constantly hunting another goal. Captain Simon Kjaer was unbeatable in his duels, leaving the crowd singing his name and showing him love after those emotional days in the beginning of the tournament. Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen was pure class, covering most of the field with important tackles and genius passes.

And then, suddenly... spontaneous celebration of a Belgium goal against Finland. Minutes later... Christensen scores a screamer, securing a 3-1-lead. Danish delight. A second Belgium goal against Finland. The roof of Parken almost blew off. Hours of fretting over group permutations over. Days of emotional roller coaster trips reached a crescendo. Months of Covid-19 frustration forgotten. Years of frustration and expectation released. Denmark were through.

On the sideline head coach Kasper Hjulmand was screaming at the top of his lungs, showing all those emotions to the world, while Maehle scored the fourth and final goal and made the number “10” with his fingers – a salute to Eriksen, who likely watched the game from his home in Odense – the home city of Hans Christian Andersen. A new Danish fairy tale was written.

After the final whistle, the crowd and players joined in common celebration. Schmeichel dedicated the win to Eriksen and the Danish fans, who supported the team all the way from the Eriksen crisis and the healing session against Belgium to the redemption against Russia.

On the TV gantry, one could see pundits Peter Schmeichel and Flemming Povlsen, both Euro 1992 winners, applauding the new heroes of the nation: Schmeichel Jr, Hojbjerg and the rest of the national team.

“The courage of the players. Their companionship. Their fellowship. Their ability to pull themselves together. I am impressed. They deserve it,” Hjulmand said. “I can’t understand, how it is possible to pick oneself up after the events of these last weeks. Applause to the boys.

“Thanks to all Danes, who have supported us unconditionally and showed us love all the way. We could not have done it without you. It means everything to us. We appreciate it. It helps the team, and hopefully it creates some amazing moments out there.”

They sure do.

Those moments of Monday night will be remembered for decades, just like the ones from the Eighties and 1992.

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