Dolberg and Delaney send Denmark past Czechs and into semi-finals

Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg’s first-half goals proved enough to earn Denmark a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic despite Patrik Schick’s consolation

It is not how you start, it is how you finish. At least it is for Denmark, whose tournament began traumatically but who are now pursuing a happy ending with a skill and resolve that may just take them all the way. They will certainly be fierce adversaries in Wednesday’s semi-final.

The Czech Republic, on the other hand, go home lamenting the fact that their second-half improvement in this quarter-final, which yielded a goal by Patrik Schick, was not enough to offset a wayward first half.

Thomas Delaney scored after five minutes and Kasper Dolberg struck just before the interval to establish a lead that proved insurmountable. Denmark have already achieved one extraordinary European triumph in their history; glory this year, after the ordeal of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest and defeat in their first two matches, would be even more remarkable than the country’s success in 1992.

Denmark’s manager, Kasper Hjulmand, was a budding player back then and has told of how he turned down Euro 92 final tickets so that he could enjoy a romantic weekend away with his then girlfriend. That must have gone well, since nearly 30 years later the couple are still together. And now Hjulmand has a date with England for a chance to complete a story that would be hard not to love.

Hjulmand said before the quarter-final that he would rather have faced the Netherlands than the Czechs because Jaroslav Silhavy’s side were the first opponents in the tournament whom he thought could match Denmark’s intensity. He was happy to be proved wrong about that as early as the fifth minute, when Delaney put Denmark in front in a very unexpected way.

Set pieces are supposed to be a particular strength of the Czech Republic but their feeble defending at a corner enabled the Danes to take the lead. Delaney was left alone near the penalty spot to guide a downward header into the net following Jens Stryger Larsen’s outswinging delivery. For a team that had conceded only two goals in the tournament prior to that, it was an enraging way to fall behind.

Patrik Schick, centre, gave the Czech Republic hope early in the second half
Patrik Schick, centre, gave the Czech Republic hope early in the second half. Photograph: Dan Mullan/AP

It was 11 minutes before the Czechs threatened at the other end, with Schick jinking in from the right to dispatch a shot that was deflected wide. That was about the extent of Schick’s involvement in a first half in which Denmark cut off the supply to him with surprising ease. Soon after Schick’s chance Denmark penetrated the Czech defence again in straightforward style. Mikkel Damsgaard ran on to a long ball from the back and flipped it past the advancing goalkeeper, but not with enough power to prevent the backtracking Vladimir Coufal from clearing. The Czechs were unusually sluggish and Delaney could have punished them again when he ran unnoticed into the box to meet a cross from the right in the 17th minute. He scuffed his shot wide.

Slowly the Czechs improved but it took a misplaced clearance by Schmeichel to give them their next chance and the keeper made amends by blocking Tomas Holes’ shot. Two minutes later Tomas Soucek headed wide from a corner, one of several that the Czechs forced in the first half. Denmark defended most of them well, and looked for opportunities to counterattack. Jan Boril gave them one in the 38th minute when he lost the ball in midfield but the break ended with Tomas Vaclik batting away Damsgaard’s shot from 15 yards.

Vaclik was helpless a few minutes later when Joakim Mæhle supplied a sumptuous cross from the left with the outside of his right foot. Dolberg arrived at speed to apply the finish that such high-class service deserved, steering a sidefooted volley into the net from six yards.

Stadium security in Baku appeared to confiscate a rainbow flag from two Denmark fans at their Euro 2020 last-eight meeting with the Czech Republic. The flag was visible in the Danish fan section during warm-ups before two security personnel moved in [pictured] and reportedly took hold of the flag. 

Uefa said on Friday that advertising boards from sponsors using a rainbow motif would not be shown at the quarter-final matches in Baku and St Petersburg. The governing body said it “requires its sponsors to ensure that their artwork is compliant with local legislation.” 

Uefa also denied a request from Munich authorities to light up the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours before Germany's Group F game against Hungary, claiming the gesture was political and “a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament”.

The Czechs had to come up with a new plan at half-time. To their credit they did. Michael Krmencik, one of two substitutions introduced for the start of the second half as Silhavy shifted to a 4-4-2, fired off a shot within seconds of his introduction and then helped to create a chance for Antonin Barak, whose shot from 18 yards drew a smart save from Schmeichel. The Czechs attacked with more vigour and fluency and soon they halved the Danes’ lead.

Their goal came from a cross from the right by Coufal and was finished with typical expertise by Schick, who guided the ball first time past Schmeichel from 12 yards.

That drew the striker level with Cristiano Ronaldo in this tournament’s scoring charts and brought the Czechs right back into a contest that had seemed to be passing them by. Suddenly Denmark needed to rethink.

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Hjulmand concocted a solution, making a double change of his own before the hour to stem the ominous flow. The new duo, Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Nørgaard, reinvigorated the Danish attack. Vaclik twice stopped Poulsen from making it 3-1.

The pace dropped as tiredness took its toll on both teams. Czech comeback hopes sagged when Schick went off clutching his hamstring. Mæhle remained as perky as ever and would have wrapped up victory in the 82nd minute if not for another save by Vaclik. No matter, Denmark never really looked like letting their lead slip. This is a team with plenty of quality and a resilience that no one can doubt.


Paul Doyle

The GuardianTramp

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