Hungry Denmark find recipe for success

12 Oct 2021
  • The Danes have sealed a spot at Qatar 2022

  • They are the third team to do so, after Germany and the host nation

  • FIFA.com puts Kasper Hjulmand’s formidable side under the spotlight

Last week, a famous Danish eatery was again voted best restaurant in the world, having based its success and reputation on modern Danish cuisine and showcasing local ingredients.

Those hallmarks could also be applied to Denmark’s national team, who became just the third side (after Germany and hosts Qatar) to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2022™ on Tuesday.

FIFA.com takes a look at the key components of a team who have become known for their own brand of modern Danish football.

Style of play

Coach Kasper Hjulmand favours a possession-based game coupled with lightning-quick counter-attacks; his team dominate and punish the opposition using three different formations (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3), which are carefully selected based on which opponents they happen to be facing.

Denmark arrived at UEFA EURO 2020 on the back of an unconvincing qualifying campaign, but at the tournament proper things began to change for the better. Then in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 the team went from strength to strength.

Ball retention, daring play, pacy wingers with a deft touch, midfielders who can control the tempo of a game, and a defence capable of handling any type of attacking threat are just some of the team’s characteristics. All of these ingredients blend together with one immutable goal in mind: collective play.

Kasper Hjulmand and Morten Wieghorst.

A leader on the bench

Hjulmand, who, notwithstanding a brief spell in charge of Bundesliga side Mainz, was practically unknown outside Denmark when he was appointed a little over a year ago, is the man tasked with making all of this come together.

A self-proclaimed admirer of Pep Guardiola, the former Nordsaelland coach was due to take the helm at the end of EURO 2020, but with the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, he ended up taking over from Age Hareide several months before the tournament.

He arrived with the stated aims of inspiring the players and boosting the country’s national identity. After enlisting the support of national celebrities to reflect those ideals, he succeeded in earning the backing of players and fans alike through his hard work and in-depth knowledge of Danish football.

HERNING, DENMARK - MARCH 28: Kasper Dolberg of Denmark looks to control the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Denmark and Moldova at the MCH-Arena on March 28, 2021 in Herning, Denmark. Sporting stadiums around Europe remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors.  (Photo by Cathrin Mueller/FIFA via Getty Images)

Building blocks

The players all excel in their specific roles. Captain Simon Kjaer is Hjulmand’s trusted representative out on the pitch and the leader of solid rearguard that forms a wall in front of Kasper Schmeichel, regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League.

In midfield, in-form stalwarts Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are two of the first names on the teamsheet, as are the versatile Daniel Wass and reliable forward Yussuf Poulsen.

Elsewhere, Joakim Maehle and Andreas Christensen proved crucial during EURO 2020 and appear to be essential elements for a future in which fresh faces are beginning to emerge. Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg are already regulars, while Andreas Skov Olsen, Mohamed Daramy and Jonas Wind are likely to follow in their footsteps.

And then there is Christian Eriksen, who is still sidelined after suffering a cardiac arrest at the European Championship. Under constant medical supervision and with his future up in the air, the talented midfielder’s contribution to the morale of his team-mates – who have dealt with his absence in the best way possible – cannot be understated.

IMAGO / Gonzales Photo

Denmark v Austria, World Cup qualifier, Copenhagen, Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark. 12th, October 2021. Andreas Christensen (6) of Denmark and Marco Gruell (15) of Austria seen during the UEFA World Cup qualifier between Denmark and Austria at Parken in Copenhagen. Copenhagen Denmark

The stats

27 - The number of goals that Denmark have scored in eight World Cup qualifying matches. While they have not been prolific in front of goal during this campaign, their defence has ensured that they have not needed to be.

0 - The number of goals Kjaer and Co have conceded during qualifying. Defensive solidity has been a vital part of Denmark’s approach.

4 - The number of teams that feature in semi-finals, the stage that Denmark reached at the recent European Championship. The surprise package of the tournament gave England a run for their money at Wembley Stadium before bowing out after extra time.

45 - The number of matches that the Danes took part in prior to the start of EURO 2020. Of that total, which included the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup and the World Cup itself (where they were knocked out on penalties by Croatia without having lost in 90 minutes), as well as the qualifiers for the aforementioned EURO, they only lost two games.

What they said

“If you can’t handle the pressure, you shouldn’t really be a coach. I want to achieve great things, and I’ll do everything I can for the team and for Denmark. When we would dream as kids, we saw ourselves lifting the trophy and making the country proud. It takes hard work and dedication to turn that dream into a reality.” Hjulmand’s first words upon taking up the reins of the Danish national team

“We’re a good team. We’ve achieved great results and put in solid performances for a fair few years now. We’ve seen what we can accomplish under pressure, and so we have every reason to be optimistic.” Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel

“We almost lost our best friend, our best player, the heart of our team. We didn’t know how to deal with it. When I look back 20 years from now, I’ll say, ‘That was crazy’.” Hjulmand after Eriksen collapsed during the match versus Finland at EURO 2020

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Up until recently, talk of Danish football often conjured up thoughts of the generation that won EURO 1992 in sensational fashion. Led by Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup, Richard Moller Nielsen’s side set an impressive benchmark and created a lasting legacy.

The current crop of players, just like the 1992 vintage, has a clear identity and a burning desire to succeed. The EURO 2020 semi-final against England was a sign of things to come, and in Qatar they will likely have an eye on going one step further. Previously known for their occasional erratic performances, they are increasingly gaining a reputation for consistency.

The Scandinavians’ squad may not boast a plethora of superstars, but what they do have is a blend of on-song players with experience and hungry young performers. After missing out on a handful of World Cups and European Championships this century, this rejuvenated Denmark team will aim to make the childhood dreams – the ones referred to by Hjulmand – of an entire nation come true in Qatar.