‘It is hard to believe this is reality’: Denmark and Dolberg in dreamland

As the songs of jubilant Denmark fans’ faded into the night, two Kaspers were still giving flash interviews pitchside about the 4-0 crushing of Wales at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

They were Hjulmand, the classy coach, and Schmeichel, the warrior-goalkeeper. Yet the victory in Amsterdam was also the tale of a third Kasper – Dolberg whose two-goal performance of a lifetime capped a masterful team display that showed how pace, cohesion, strategy and momentum are enhancing the spirit fuelled by the desire to claim Euro 2020 for the recovering Christian Eriksen.

For, make no mistake: Denmark are a real team. After withstanding 20 minutes of attacking thrust from Robert Page’s side, they allowed them only the odd glimpse of Schmeichel’s goal as they took the contest to Wales and scored four brilliant goals.

It was all done without the injured Yussuf Poulsen, who had scored twice in the group stage as Denmark scraped through after losing their opening two matches. Yet in Dolberg, Mikkel Damsgaard and Martin Braithwaite, Hjulmand fielded a fluid and fast forward unit. Braithwaite’s penchant for peeling wide and boosting past defenders caused Wales endless problems.

Dolberg was the standout player, though. A 23-year-old whose career began with a single season at Silkeborg IF, then three at Ajax, before moving to Nice in the summer of 2019, he had a modest record in international colours before Saturday night. Entering the last-16 tie, Dolberg had seven goals in 27 appearances and had yet to start at the tournament, being limited to one substitute appearance.

Yet against Wales he was a powerhouse, blending buccaneering surges with silky layoffs, and one cute near-post backheel going close to deceiving Danny Ward, the Wales goalkeeper.

Most materially, Dolberg displayed a killer touch. His opener was purely struck, following a parabola that swung in from outside Ward’s left post. Arriving in the 27th minute it was also sweetly timed to stop the initial wave of Welsh pressure. His second, a few minutes into the second half, broke Wales hearts and minds, killing the contest.

“We have a star striker in Kasper,” said Hjulmand of Dolberg, a player who is finding form at precisely the right time. It was also worth noting how Simon Kjær was more than content to mix it with Wales’s Kieffer Moore, a centre-forward built like a rugby union second row but who found Denmark’s captain delivering the sort of performance that told the rest of his backline: no one shall breach us.

The Danes may go out in the next round. But if they do, whoever beats them will have to earn the victory. Following Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, Hjulmand’s men have shown unimaginable courage to arrive at where they are now. It is heartwarming and life-affirming to witness.

As Hjulmand said: “It is hard to believe that this is reality. I am really grateful for all of the Danes who came all the way down here [to Amsterdam]. I am grateful for the support we keep receiving. It’s crazy. I admire the boys, I admire that we can keep fighting back. When Christian collapsed that’s where everything changed, for me at least. We were suddenly put in a totally different situation. We needed the love and the support and that is what gave us wings. I admire the boys, they are warriors.”

The victory over Wales came 29 years after Denmark’s “boys from the beach” left their holidays to replace Yugoslavia at Euro 92, where they would become continental champions.

That triumph remains a bona fide fairytale. Surely there is absolutely no chance of Hjulmand’s 2021 vintage repeating the feat. Is there?