Opposition Analysis - Denmark
With the excitement of the summer’s finals now in our rear-view mirror, Steve Clarke and the Tartan Army’s attention now returns to qualifying for another tournament. Our triple header back in March which kicked off our ‘Road to Qatar’, and although it wasn’t the perfect start we hoped for, it was far from the worst it could have been. Fighting back twice for a draw against a strong Austrian side, avoiding defeat in Israel and a routine win over the Faroes leaves the boys in 2nd place on 5pts, one would hope that this gives us a good foundation to build on over the next week.
A good start of course would be closing the gap against the side which lead the group, Denmark. Perched at the top of Group F with a four-point lead on Scotland, this Danish side have made a good start in their efforts to reach the 2022 World Cup. It’s really no surprise they top the group, given their status as the pot 1 team within the group. However, they are far less formidable opposition when compared with the top seeds Scotland have been paired with in years gone by.
The Danes also have more to be happy about recently than their start to these qualifiers, having had a far more successful time at EURO 2020 than Scotland did. Despite a rocky start, which was overshadowed by Christian Eriksen’s health scare, the Danes squeezed out of their group to progress to the semi-finals and as a result, the mood in their camp will be good right now. Scotland will travel to Copenhagen knowing the pressure is on and that returning to Hampden with 3pts will require more than a good performance.
It really comes as no surprise given what I have summarised above that the Danes form has been pretty spot on during 2021. Landing in Group F with a decent looking Austrian side and hungry pot 3 underdogs Scotland, the pressure was on with those two lying in wait for a slip up. It hasn’t come however, with zero goals conceded and 14 (fourteen) scored in their opening three matches. Their first victim was Israel, who they beat 2-0 despite being a tricky opponent to travel to.
Returning home, they then played host to bottom seeds Moldova in Herning at the home of FC Midtjylland, and it was here where they inflicted Moldova’s heaviest ever defeat. A crushing 8-0 win saw both Dolberg and Damsgaard both grab a brace, and onto Vienna they swiftly moved. Here came arguably their most impressive win, sweeping aside Austria 4-0 on their own turf. It was a clean sweep in their first three games, and now it was onto the EURO’S.
Going undefeated in their warmup friendlies with Germany and Bosnia & Herzegovina, they kicked off the tournament against Nordic rivals Finland. This game was marred by the tragic events which unfolded after Inter Milan star Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and had to receive life saving treatment from paramedics and health workers behind a curtain wall of his teammates. A continent held its breath as they prayed for his recovery. Once the fixture resumed the Fins won the game, and an unfortunate 2-1 loss against the Belgians followed to make it back-to-back defeats.
From here however, the Danes saw their fortunes turn. Winning 4-1 against the Russians, and with results going their way elsewhere, they squeezed into the knockouts due to a superior goal difference. After this they swept Bale & Co. aside beating Wales 4-0 and edged past the Czechs into the quarter finals.
Into the semi-finals, and a night at Wembley against England produced a very entertaining game. The 90 minutes came with the score at one goal apiece, and only extra time could separate the two with Harry Kane being the difference. Out of the competition but with a nation chanting their names, the Danes were understandably very happy with how their summer panned out.
Regardless of the absence of their star man Eriksen, head coach Kasper Hjulmand still has a plethora of talent to pick from. It would come as a massive surprise if Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel did not start in Copenhagen on Wednesday. The vice-captain was one of their summer hero’s and is a well-known and respected keeper. His 71 caps are second only to captain Simon Kjær who has notched up 113 since his international debut in 2009. The AC Milan centre back has bags of experience and has played in most of Europe’s top leagues at some point in his career, making the 32-year-old an incredible asset to his manager and team.
Another centre half who will likely start is Andreas Christensen, a familiar face to many given his time with Chelsea and in the Premier League. Having come through from the Chelsea academy the defender has worked his way through the ranks, as well as a loan spell in Germany to become a regular at ‘the bridge’, and has done well under Tuchel with a Champions League winners medal to show for it.
Midfield duo Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg both started last time Scotland met Denmark back in our 2016 friendly, and one would expect this to be the case again this week. Both also started every game at the EURO’s and Højbjerg played every minute for the Danes, the Spurs man clearly someone who head coach Hjulmand believes he can rely on.
In the creative department they have Mikkel Damsgaard and Yussuf Poulsen. Sampdoria youngster Damsgaard earned his first competitive start for Denmark against Moldova and scored two to make the occasion even more memorable. Since then, his international stock has only risen, breaking into their starting eleven at the EURO’s and scoring to give the Danes a lead over England.
Fellow attacker Poulsen has the most international goals in the squad from those who are available to face Scotland, having netted 10 for his country. At his domestic club Leipzig, the 27 year old has only once broken into double figures for league goals in a single season (2018/19), not exactly a prolific goal scorer one could note.
A striker with a better conversion rate is Nice forward Kasper Dolberg. The youngster also has 10 for the national team but achieved this tally in half as many caps as his countryman. Despite being listed in the squad however, Dolberg is reported to have picked up an injury and has remained in France while he is being examined by his club. Martin Braithwaite and Jannik Vestergaard join Dolberg on a list of seven players who are reported to be injured and unavailable for the Danes, something that will be music to Steve Clarke's ears. Scotland have seen their squad ravaged by injury and covid isolation so it is reassuring to see the Danes have had their own struggles on this front, which somewhat levels the playing field.
Wednesday night will be tough to call with both sides having suffered disruption in the build up to the fixture, as well as limited time to prepare with most of the squads only managing to meet up two days before the game.
With a significant list of injuries, Denmark will be weaker than they would like to find themselves, although still a formidable opponent none the less. Scotland’s most significant loss is arguably John McGinn who is currently isolating after a positive covid test, but McGinn drops out of a position where Scotland have reasonable depth where able replacements can step up. This is hopefully less of a blow to Clarkes plans due to this.
With the return of Gilmour, and the likes of Dykes and the Celtic lads in fine form for their clubs, there is a good energy around the Scotland camp going into this. The idea of our squad being depleted is somewhat lessened when looking at Denmark’s own situation, and this could provide Scotland with an opportunity to take something from the group leaders.
One thing for certain is, if Scotland want to keep any chance of snatching the top spot alive, they cannot let the Danes extend their four point lead over us at the top. Avoiding defeat is a must, something which Scotland have not managed away to a pot 1 team since 2013 in Zagreb. Back then we were out of the running for qualification, but this time a result would carry far more weight should we defy the odds, so hopefully someone can channel a bit of that Robert Snodgrass magic to bring a result back to Hampden for Saturday.