How are Denmark getting it so right?

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November 15, 2021
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    Joakim Maehle scored the only goal against Austria last month to secure Denmark's place at the 2022 World CupJoakim Maehle scored the only goal against Austria last month to secure Denmark's place at the 2022 World Cup

    World Cup qualifying Group F: Scotland v Denmark
    Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Monday, 15 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
    Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app; watch highlights on Sportscene on BBC One Scotland

    From failing to qualify for successive major tournaments and sinking to an all-time low of 51st in the world rankings, Denmark's revival is rocketing.

    The Euro 2020 semi-finalists have cruised to World Cup qualification without a point dropped and hadn't even conceded a goal until the Faroe Islands' 89th-minute consolation on Friday.

    Now one of Europe's most formidable sides, Kasper Hjulmand's men aim to complete the campaign with an unblemished record when they face Scotland at Hampden on Monday.

    Just how have the Danes got it so right?

    Hareide fosters club atmosphere amid public disconnect

    Denmark have been untouchable on the road to Qatar 2022 and currently lie 10th in Fifa's world rankings, tucked in behind Mexico, Spain and Portugal and ahead of big hitters such as the Netherlands and Germany.

    Yet, in summer 2017, the Danes had the likes of Montenegro and Saudi Arabia for company as their standing plummeted as a consequence of missing out on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros.

    Supporter apathy had taken hold with the national team's style having grown stale in the final years of long-serving manager Morten Olsen's reign.

    Fresh impetus was needed and vastly experienced Norwegian coach Age Hareide was tasked with providing it when installed as Olsen's replacement in March 2016.

    "Hareide deserves a lot of credit for changing the interest in the national team," says Danish international Erik Sviatchenko, the former Celtic defender now back in his homeland with champions Midtjylland.

    "There were a lot of years where people weren't watching the games, either in the stadium or on TV.

    "Then, when Hareide took over and started winning, albeit with a bit more pragmatic style, something happened among the Danish people. They were getting excited and Hareide had transformed the team into being like a club.

    "That gave them a joy to meet up with the national team and do something bigger than just play games and go home. They started to believe they could do something unique."

    The tight-knit spirit and reconnection with the public helped Hareide return the team to the major stage. After finishing second behind Poland in their qualifying section, the Danes thrashed the Republic of Ireland 5-1 in a play-off to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    Their run was halted in the last 16 by eventual runners-up Croatia on penalties, but momentum continued in the inaugural Nations League by winning promotion to the top tier.

    Euros qualification was then secured and, by the time Hareide stepped down last summer a year earlier than planned after the finals were pushed back 12 months, Denmark were on an unprecedented 34-game unbeaten run.

    Former Norway head coach Age HareideFormer Norway head coach Age Hareide brought cohesion and qualification for two major tournaments as Denmark boss

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    'Free thinker' Hjulmand & galvanised by Eriksen scare

    The recovery gathered pace under Hjulmand – regardless of a debut defeat by Belgium that halted the undefeated streak – as he developed Denmark into a more expansive and dynamic unit.

    Hjulmand had taken charge after two spells with Nordsjaelland either side of an ill-fated stint as Thomas Tuchel's successor at German club Mainz.

    He brought innovation to the national side but faced initial scepticism as a "free thinker". After all, it's not every manager who invites politicians, artists, musicians, intellectuals and business figures to discuss a nation's identity and how his team could reflect that.

    "He is different in that aspect and it is a nice way of approaching things," Sviatchenko says.

    "He always says the national team has to be for everyone, for the small kids playing in the garden, right up to the elite players."

    Hjulmand gained worldwide respect this summer with his empathetic leadership following midfielder Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest on the pitch during Denmark's opening game at Euro 2020.

    Despite that loss against Finland and defeat by Belgium, the Danes reached the knockout stage with a 4-1 defeat of Russia on an emotion-charged night in Copenhagen. Their rollercoaster journey led them to the last four, where they succumbed to England after extra time.

    "Galvanised is a good way to describe it," Sviatchenko adds. "The fans and and the country fell in love even more with the Danish national team.

    "It's amazing. I hadn't had this feeling before, even as a footballer. I wanted to go and be a part of it, watch games with my son, show him what the national team was about.

    "It's really positive something tragic ended up having a unifying effect."

    Mikkel Damsgaard and manager Kasper Hjulmand rose to prominence as Denmark took Euro 2020 by stormMikkel Damsgaard and manager Kasper Hjulmand rose to prominence as Denmark took Euro 2020 by storm

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    'New Laudrup' emerges as top-level experience counts

    While an experienced core remains – goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, skipper Simon Kjaer and midfielder Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg are the backbone of this Denmark team – new heroes were forged at the Euros.

    The breakout star was winger Mikkel Damsgaard – hailed in his homeland as the new Michael Laudrup – who emerged as one of the players of the tournament and became Denmark's youngest-ever scorer at a major tournament at 20 years and 353 days.

    Full-back Joakim Maehle's impressive showings helped earn him a move from Racing Genk to Atalanta in the summer, continuing a trend in recent years of Denmark's best talent rising to Europe's top leagues.

    Scotland have fallen victim to the Danes and Maehle, who scored the second as Hjulmand's side outclassed Steve Clarke's men 2-0 at home in September. Denmark's remarkable campaign earned them a World Cup place with two matches to spare and the best record of any European team.

    "Damsgaard really burst on to the scene at the Euros, stepping up in the absence of Eriksen," Sviatchenko points out. "I remember him from the Danish Superliga and knew he was good – but I didn't know he was that good!

    "You also have young Bologna winger Andreas Skov Olsen and the Atalanta left-back Mahle. When you have a national manager who gives you the space and opportunity to express yourself then you can thrive."

    Source

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