By Samindra Kunti in London
July 8 – And so, in the end there will be no Danish fairytale. Kasper Hjulmand’s brave and battling team exited the finals in the most dramatic fashion following Harry Kane’s controversial 104th minute penalty goal, which left the Danish coach “bitter”.
There was almost too much atmosphere at England’s national stadium, but the visitors quickly shut down the noise and a barnstorming England. They knew that England had not won a major tournament for decades and could get jittery. What was to follow was an extraordinary Danish rearguard action that ended in heartbreak in extra time after a contentious penalty went England’s way.
“It was a penalty which should not have been a penalty,” said a dejected and dismayed Hjulmand at a news conference. “It is something which annoys me right now. We are very disappointed.
“You cannot pass by the ball on the pitch which has so much influence on the game.”
“I know it sounds weird right now but I cannot help having these feelings. One thing is to lose a game, it happens, but losing this way is disappointing because these guys have fought a lot.”
“It feels bitter but we have to digest this before we can discuss these feelings. It’s a bitter way to leave the tournament.”
His team ran, harried and hurried and defended like lions, but could not prevent England from reaching a first major tournament final since 1966. Not even the impeccable Kasper Schmeichel, arguably the man of the match. At times, the match felt like Schmeichel versus England, with the Leicester goalkeeper coming out on top. Even so, England were dominant for vast stretches of the match.
“We had to find more space in the the second half; we had to be more proactive in the midfield,” said Hjulmand. “After Italy, we are the team with most shots on target, we played with so much heart, passion and personality – this group is amazing, but we are disappointed.”
The Danish dug in with substitute Christian Norgaard a work horse. Even so, nerves frayed and legs tired. How could they keep up their industry against England with a deep bench? The tension gripped Wembley. By the minute, the Danish, on the back of a trip to Baku and a physical battle with the Czech Republic, seemed more exhausted. They were dead on their feet and just hanging on. And then came the moment – Sterling’s ‘dive’ – which Hjulmand described as “decisive”.
Even so, the Danish coach remained optimistic about the future of his team which caught the imagination for the way they responded to Christian Eriksen’s dramatic collapse on June 12.
“I have the sensation that we are going to be even better,” concluded Hjulmand. “We are going to reflect on this. I believe in our team and I believe we can do even more. You never know. A lot can happen in knockout gamers. Great things are ahead with this team.”
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