Pointless after two games, Denmark are now only two from improbable glory. Reaching a first semi-final in 29 years meant a remarkable renaissance continues. They may yet follow in the footsteps of the class of 1992 and become surprise European champions.
The first team in the competition’s history to qualify for the knockout stages after losing their opening two matches have shown their potency. Two first-half goals took their tally to 10 in three matches, though it still required some dogged defending to end the Czech Republic’s terrific campaign.
Once again, Kasper Hjulmand’s side found a way to win without Christian Eriksen. They allied energy with quality initially, and then demonstrated resolve and resilience. The playmaker was their resident set-piece specialist. Instead, Jens Stryger Larsen’s corner brought Thomas Delaney’s opener. The midfielder became Denmark’s seventh scorer of the tournament. It is proof of the way so many have contributed to their success.
Kasper Dolberg, who was limited to one substitute appearance in the group, has emerged as one of the stars of the knockout stages and his volleyed second meant the Czechs had conceded as many goals before the break as they had in their four previous matches. Patrik Schick then drew level with Cristiano Ronaldo as the tournament’s top scorer, but emulated him by being eliminated.
Hjulmand has shown a sure touch in his decision-making and his pre-match decisions were soon justified.
Yussuf Poulsen and Daniel Wass were fit again but began on the bench. The men who had come in against Wales and who retained their places, in Dolberg and Stryger Larsen, set about proving their manager right.
The wing-back Stryger Larsen took an incorrectly awarded fifth-minute corner and Delaney rose unmarked to head it in. The Czech Republic had used their height to scored two goals from set-pieces already in the tournament, but this was a taste of their own medicine. The same combination could have produced a second goal, Delaney miscuing a half-volley from Stryger Larsen’s cross.
Instead, Dolberg doubled the lead. His close-range finish was emphatic, though still not as impressive as Joakim Maehle’s cross, whipped in with the outside of his right foot. The Atalanta man has seemed to be in an unofficial competition with Leonardo Spinazzola for the title of the tournament’s left-back and, with his rival injured, this was an eloquent way of advancing his case.
There were other examples of Denmark’s ability to break at pace. They had a threat on the counter-attack, especially through Mikkel Damsgaard. The prodigy had two chances to mark his 21st birthday with a goal. When he latched on to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s long ball and poked a shot past Tomas Vaclik, a tame effort was cleared off the line. Later, Vaclik saved a fiercer shot.
The Czechs were muted initially; their best chance of the first half stemmed from a poor kick by Kasper Schmeichel, though the goalkeeper atoned by blocking from Tomas Holes, while Tomas Soucek headed a corner wide.
But Jaroslav Silhavy also ranks among the tournament’s outstanding managers and he exerted an impact to fashion a comeback. A half-time double change made a difference. Jakub Jankto had an influence while Michael Krmencik was still more of a catalyst. Within a minute of his introduction, he drew a save from Schmeichel. It prompted others to show a similar intent. Four shots in as many minutes culminated in Schick’s fifth goal of the tournament, volleyed in from Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
Denmark’s dominance had given way to a struggle but Hjulmand restored a measure control by beefing up his midfield with Christian Norgaard and going from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. Poulsen came on to add a presence in attack. He came close twice and set up Maehle when he was denied by the excellent Vaclik but a third goal was not necessary. When Schick went off, holding his hamstring, it was a sign his side were checking out.