Jannik Vestergaard (centre) and his Denmark team-mates celebrate after their win over the Czech Republic
The traumatic sight of Christian Eriksen’s collapse in Denmark’s first game, and the subsequent relief when he survived, has imbued this team with a powerful sense of purpose.
It would be reductive in the extreme, though, to describe Kasper Hjulmand’s side as one driven purely by emotion. Denmark are powerful, flexible, organised and dangerous. England must be wary.
Strength in the air
Three of England’s four goals against Ukraine were headers from crosses, and Gareth Southgate’s side have looked dangerous from corners and free-kicks throughout this tournament. Denmark will be a much tougher nut to crack, however, and they will pose plenty of threat from their own set pieces.
Their stability in the air stems from their three centre-backs: Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (6ft 2in), Milan’s Simon Kjaer (6ft 3in) and Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard (6ft 6in). Kjaer, in particular, has been immense at this tournament so far, reading the play and clearing the danger.
Christensen and Vestergaard’s Premier League experience should make them capable of dealing with England’s deliveries from wide. The physical power of Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice will not come as any surprise to the Danish defence, or indeed to Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the midfield.
Christensen, Kjaer and Vestergaard provide defensive stability with their height
Denmark’s first goal against Czech Republic, in their quarter-final victory in Baku, came from a corner of their own. The Czech defenders were so fearful of Vestergaard and Kjaer’s aerial prowess that they allowed Thomas Delaney a free header on the penalty spot.
Watch out for the wing-backs
One of the standout players of this summer has been Joakim Maehle, the 24-year-old Atalanta defender who has been so devastating from a wing-back position for Denmark. Maehle scored in the drubbings of Russia and Wales and produced surely the best assist of the tournament in the quarter-final victory over the Czech Republic.
Running at full speed behind the Czech defence, Maehle unleashed a remarkable cross with the outside of his right boot. The delivery arced beyond two Czech defenders before landing at the feet of striker Kasper Dolberg, just six yards from goal. Dolberg could not miss.
Joakim Maehle, that is outrageous! 😱
Find us a better assist at Euro 2020 – we’ll wait.#CZEDEN | #ITVFootball | #Euro2020 pic.twitter.com/pfLQ6PCLjL
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 3, 2021
Denmark’s first goal was also created by one of their wing-backs: it was Jens Stryger Larsen’s whipped delivery that found Delaney in the box.
When Denmark have the ball, it is these wing-backs who provide the width and stretch the opposition. Southgate chose to match Germany’s 3-4-3 formation in the round of 16, rather than allow their wing-backs to pull England out of shape, and he may be tempted to make a similar move for this semi-final.
Speed and creativity in attack
The absence of Eriksen has provided an unexpected opportunity for young Mikkel Damsgaard, who turned 21 on Saturday. Damsgaard has a boy’s face but he has played like a seasoned professional so far, providing speed and invention in the final third.
The Sampdoria forward offers more dynamic running than Eriksen and his presence has helped them to become one of the tournament’s most dangerous counter-attacking sides. Barcelona forward Martin Braithwaite also brings pace to the attack, mainly from the right flank, and the Denmark midfield is not afraid to play long balls over the top.
If the strikers had been more clinical against the Czech Republic, they could have scored two or three more goals through rapid counter-attacks on Saturday. The Czechs had no answer to the dynamic movement of the Danish front three.
Damsgaard provides pace and creativity
Flexible and fearless
Denmark are not wedded to their 3-4-3 formation and Hjulmand has shown willingness to switch the shape during games. The best example of this was in the last-16 thrashing of Wales, when Christensen moved from defence into midfield midway through the first half.
Wales had started the match brightly, looking the more dangerous side in the opening 20 minutes. The change of system, with Christensen coming into midfield and the defence becoming a back four, allowed Denmark to seize control and nullify the threat of Aaron Ramsey.
Hjulmand has said he is inspired by the philosophy of Johan Cruyff. "One of my big inspirations, Johan Cruyff, said you cannot play football with fear," he said before the quarter-final.
"That does not mean you should not think both ways, it does not mean you just go forward without thinking backwards, but it means you cannot play football at your best if you are afraid, so for sure I want the players to set themselves free."
The Eriksen factor
Only Denmark’s players and coaches will know what psychological depths have been unlocked by the trauma of watching Eriksen’s collapse in their opening match. What is clear to all, though, is that their shared horror has brought a unity and drive to the team.
A giant Christian Eriksen shirt was put on display before Denmark's group stage match against Belgium in Copenhagen
"It did something to the group," said Kjaer. "We thrive and we are safe together. We know we can trust the people around us. We know that if one of us is in trouble, then someone else is there for you."
At the final whistle on Saturday, Hojbjerg fell to his knees and burst into tears.
Det her klip med Pierre og holdkammeraterne… ❤️ #den pic.twitter.com/D4OMPULEsx
— Thomas Søgaard Rohde (@Thomas_Rohde) July 3, 2021
"I am still thinking of Christian every single day," Hjulmand said after Saturday’s victory. "He should have been here. We are happy that he survived, we carry him all the way to this match and all the way to Wembley. I think about him all of the time.
"We all understood maybe that the values of football came through – and maybe we are a symbol of it. I could not be more happy than that."