Amsterdam: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand is hoping his nation’s long love affair with Dutch football in general and Ajax Amsterdam in particular will stand to them when they take on Wales in their Euro 2020 last 16 game tonight.
The two sides meet at the Johan Cruyff Arena where many Danes have represented Ajax over the years, including playmaker Christian Eriksen, who is recovering following a cardiac arrest against Finland in Denmark’s opening game.
“If any club outside the borders has meant anything to Danish football, this (Ajax) is it. There is a very big connection between Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Denmark,” Hjulmand told a news conference.
“Christian (Eriksen) left home when he was 16, and this is his second home. We also have (Kasper) Dolberg and (Nicolai) Boilesen - there are so many players who have gotten their football upbringing here,” he added.
The Danes beat Wales twice in the UEFA Nations League in 2018, but Hjulmand said that those results will count for nothing when the two sides meet again.
“It was a team that was somewhere else at the time when Denmark last met them. They were in the process of making some changes. From there, they have had three good years,” Hjulmand explained.
One player who is still in the setup is Gareth Bale, who has spent the last season playing alongside Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at Tottenham Hotspur in England.
“In the last ten years, not many people have done what he has done. Scored over 100 goals for Real Madrid. He’s a class player, a great guy. One of the best players I have played with,” Hojbjerg told reporters.
“I wish the best for him, just not tonight!” he added.
Hojbjerg doesn’t agree with Bale that Wales are the underdogs, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has said that he and the Danes aren’t taking anything for granted.
“If you know anything about football, you know that the next match is the most important. We are not thinking about that match after the next one,” Hojbjerg said.
Hjulmand believes his side is now fully recovered from the shock of Eriksen’s collapse.
“We have gotten over a traumatic experience and we know that we are warriors - we went in there again that same evening. We played against the strongest national team (Belgium) a few days later,” Hjulmand said.
“This team has shown mental strength for several years, we know that we just get stronger and stronger as time goes on,” he added.
Repeat of 2016
Gareth Bale and Wales are dreaming of a repeat of their run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals after advancing as runners-up of Group A behind Italy.
Welsh media reports have picked up on fans making it to Amsterdam having come from watching the team play in Azerbaijan in the group stage - without returning to Britain - only to be turned away at Schiphol airport.
The travel ban does not apply to supporters coming from Denmark, which like the Netherlands is in the European Union.
“We’ve been in situations where teams are favourites or have more support, against Turkey (in Baku) they had 18,000 in the stadium so it makes no difference. When it comes to kick-off it is just us players on the pitch,” said Bale.