Maybe it's wishful thinking, but if Denmark could pick a moment to remember from their Euro 2020 campaign, surely this would be near the top of the list.

Toe-poke, trivela, call it what you will – Joakim Maehle's outside-of-the-foot cross for the second goal against the Czech Republic was one of the finest pieces of skill seen at these finals.

With enough pace to elude defenders but not the arriving Kasper Dolberg, curling away from Czech heads and onto the striker's foot, it was impudent expertise of the highest order.

It was also entirely in keeping with Maehle's standard of performances at this tournament. This was no fluke or Hail Mary; this was calculated brilliance by a player at the top of his game.

Maehle's form has been a bit of a subplot to Denmark's amazing run to the semi-finals. The team spirit and the tactical nous of Kasper Hjulmand have been praised at almost every turn since that awful moment when Christian Eriksen's life was in danger during their opening match with Finland. But there are individual stars to shout about, too, and Maehle most of all.

After netting the fourth goal in the decisive group win over Russia, Maehle struck a superb third in the 4-0 defeat of Wales in the previous round. Before the quarter-finals, no defender had scored more goals, taken more shots (nine) or completed more dribbles (11) than the Atalanta wing-back.

Calling him a 'defender' might sound a stretch – playing his club football at Atalanta, he is certainly prized as much for his work in the opponents' half as his own. Yet defend he does, when the need arises: against Wales, no Denmark player made more tackles (two) or interceptions (three), while the Czech Republic's Lukas Masopust was hauled off at half-time of Saturday's quarter-final after touching the ball just 15 times, his playground on the right-hand side locked down by Denmark's marauding left-back.

 

By the end of their 2-1 win, a result that made Denmark the first team to reach the semi-finals of the Euros after losing twice in the group stage, Maehle had misplaced just three passes in total and completed 91 per cent in the Czech Republic half, the most of any starting player for Hjulmand's side. He should have had a second goal, too, Tomas Vaclik saving well at his near post to deny Maehle from his latest surge into the box.

Denmark can now look forward to a semi-final, their first at a major tournament since that shock trophy win in 1992. They have scored 11 times at these finals, their best return at either the World Cup or European Championship. Maehle has been directly involved in three of them, and each one has been a real moment of magic.

What happened to Eriksen has not been forgotten, and nor should it. The actions of the medical staff and the dignity of Denmark's players, coaches and fans will deserve praise long after this tournament is over.

But mostly, Euro 2020 must be about the football: about hopes and dreams, surprise results, and outstanding performances. In that regard, Maehle has delivered more than most.

Patrik Schick's fifth goal at Euro 2020 was not enough to inspire a comeback as Denmark beat the Czech Republic 2-1 to take their place in the semi-finals.

Schick joined Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts with his fifth goal of the tournament early in the second half in Baku.

Yet he will have no further opportunity to add to his tally, as a fantastic first-half performance, which included goals from Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg, ensured Denmark reached the last four of a Euros for the first time since they won the 1992 edition.

Kasper Hjulmand's team, whose tally of 11 goals trails only fellow semi-finalists Spain, will face either England or Ukraine on Wednesday.

 

Approximately 1,500 Danish supporters were able to make the trip to Baku, and they were celebrating within five minutes.

Jens Stryger Larsen's corner – which should not have been awarded – found Delaney unmarked, and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder made no mistake with a brilliant header.

On his 21st birthday, Mikkel Damsgaard just failed to squeeze a finish beyond Tomas Vaclik from a tight angle, before Stryger Larsen and Delaney combined for another chance – the latter scuffing wide.

Dolberg made no such mistake three minutes before half-time, however, as he cushioned home from Joakim Maehle's exquisite, outside-of-the-foot cross from the left.

Antonin Barak drew a fine save out of Kasper Schmeichel following the restart, with Simon Kjaer then getting a vital block on Schick's overhead kick.

Yet the Czech Republic's pressure told in the 49th minute – Schick placing a measured first-time finish into the bottom-left corner after being found by Vladimir Coufal.

Tomas Soucek made a brave block to deny Yussuf Poulsen just after the hour, though the Czechs were dealt a blow when Ondrej Celustka succumbed to injury.

Poulsen was let off the hook for another miss when Kjaer cleared in front of a gaping goal soon after, and with Schick going off with an apparent injury late on, Denmark held firm to book their spot at Wembley.

Czech players know a thing or two about unforgettable Euros goals.

In 1976, Czechoslovakia became European Champions after Antonin Panenka unveiled his audacious dinked penalty – imitations of which still bear his name to this day.

Karel Poborsky's sensational scoop sunk Portugal as the Czech Republic charted an unlikely course to the final of Euro 96.

Such heroics secured Poborsky a dream move to Manchester United and a handful of Premier League clubs have reportedly had their attention piqued by Patrik Schick's exploits at Euro 2020.

Schick's sensational goal from halfway, part of a brace in the 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park, will remain one of this tournament's enduring moments, but it was no flash in the pan.

The Bayer Leverkusen striker slotted home to seal an assured last-16 win over the 10-man Netherlands, moving on to four for the competition.

With Cristiano Ronaldo (five), Emil Forsberg, Karim Benzema and Romelu Lukaku (all four) having packed their bags, Schick has a chance to further boost his Golden Boot prospects in Saturday's Baku quarter-final against Denmark.

It would see him emulate another of his country's footballing heroes, the Euro 2004 top scorer Milan Baros, and burnish a reputation that has taken a battering over recent years.

From Samp star to Roman ruin

In 2017, Schick was on the brink of the sort of dream move Poborsky secured two decades earlier.

A stunning breakout season at Sampdoria in 2016-17, where he scored 13 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions – only 15 of which were starts - captured the attention of Juventus.

The clubs agreed a fee in the region of €25million and Schick was even pictured on Juve's website in club training kit for a medical, but that was where the problems started.

 

Juventus pulled out of the deal, amid speculation that tests had uncovered cardiac problems. This was dismissed as "a farce" by Sampdoria owner Massimo Ferrero and, after Roma stepped in to take Schick off their hands, further examinations gave the forward the all-clear.

However, Juve's loss did not become Roma's gain as Schick failed to reproduce his Sampdoria form.

"Do I wonder what might have been? No, I've already closed it out," he told Czech newspaper Lidovky in June 2018, but his output on the field in his debut season at the Stadio Olimpico told a different story.

Schick scored just three goals in all competitions as he struggled to dislodge first-choice striker Edin Dzeko and was often shunted out to the right wing. His shot conversion rate plummeted from 28.9 per cent at Samp during the previous campaign to 8.1 in 2017-18.

A similarly fallow 2018-19 followed (five goals in 32 appearances) and Schick needed a fresh start.

Rebuilding in the Bundesliga

RB Leipzig took Schick on a season-long loan and across all competitions in 2019-20, as the Bundesliga club reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, he scored 10 times in 28 appearances (18 starts).

It was a solid if unspectacular return, but a huge step in the right direction and one that meant Roma were able to make their money back as Schick joined Bayer Leverkusen on a five-year deal ahead of last season.

His rehabilitation continued impressively at the BayArena, hitting 13 goals for the first time since he came to prominence at Sampdoria four seasons earlier.

According to Opta, Schick's big chance conversion rate was up to 40.9 per cent, having dwindled at 33.3 in his post-Samp years. A total of 32 chances created for team-mates was his best in the top-five leagues.

 

It laid the foundation for a stunning Euro 2020 so far, where the variety of Schick's goals has caught the eye.

His showstopper against Scotland was preceded by a fine, towering header. He kept his nerve from the penalty spot against Croatia before coolly converting after Tomas Holes' run scattered a tiring Netherlands.

Going for gold

This body of work leaves Schick in contention for his own piece of history. He is one shy of Baros' five-goal haul, which included a quarter-final brace against Denmark that he would dearly love to emulate.

Indeed, in Euros 80, 92, and 2012, Schick's haul would already have been enough to take home the Golden Boot, with the joint-top scorers in each of those tournaments scoring three apiece.

He and everyone else at Euro 2020 remains some way short of Michel Platini's nine goals as France tasted glory on home soil in 1984 – a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact the championship was only a five-game tournament back then.

A more realistic target for Schick and this year's frontrunners is Antoine Griezmann, who scored six in seven matches as France plotted a path to the final of Euro 2016, the first time the present 24-team format was used.

Schick averages 1.1 goals per 90 minutes after spending 326 minutes on the field in total. This marks a slightly better frequency than Griezmann (0.97) four years ago. Indeed, only Marco van Basten (1.16 - five goals in 389 minutes at Euro 88), Baros (1.17) and Platini (1.69) have a better scoring rate. If we dismiss Platini as something of a freakish outlier, Schick is on Golden Boot form.

 

A challenge at this business end of the competition for those not playing in teams likely to dominate the action is how many shots their main goal threats are able to get away.

Schick averages 3.59 shots per 90 minutes (13 overall), remarkably similar to Baros' 3.52 (15 shots) in 2004. By comparison, Platini (4.88) and Griezmann (4.55) were able to fire off goal attempts with far greater frequency.

Ronaldo had 37 shots for three goals (6.94) during Portugal's 2012 campaign, while David Villa – in a Spain team hardly noted for indiscriminately peppering the opposition goal – averaged 4.57 per 90 en route to glory at Euro 2012.

Such a volume of opportunities are unlikely to fall Schick's way on Saturday. But whether they come aerially, in the penalty area or from distance, a player in prime form at the perfect time after a long road back to his best looks ready to capitalise.

Denmark will be hoping to end something of a quarter-final hoodoo when they tussle with the Czech Republic, who beat them in their most recent last-eight match back in Euro 2004.

Since winning Euro 92, Denmark have only reached the quarter-final stage of a major international tournament on two occasions, losing to 3-2 to Brazil in the 1998 World Cup and then 3-0 to the Czechs six years later.

The Danes will fancy themselves to at least ask questions of the Czech Republic on Saturday though, given they became the first team in Euros history to score four or more in successive games last time out.

While they took a little time to get up to speed, converting just two per cent of their first 44 shots, they have scored 26 per cent of their 31 attempts since.

 

But even when they were wasteful in front of goal, they still posed a threat, as highlighted by the fact their 18.8 shots and 7.3 shots on target per game are their highest averages on record at a major tournament.

That attack-minded approach coupled with their response to Christian Eriksen's ordeal on matchday one have seen Denmark have become the neutrals' favourite.

And while the Inter man has since left hospital following his cardiac arrest, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand recognises that Eriksen will be on the players' minds again.

"Christian is the heart of the team," Hjulmand told reporters on Friday. "We will play for him tomorrow.

"We will not be afraid, you cannot play football if you are afraid. I want my players to go down to the pitch feeling free, with courage, showing the best."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Czech Republic – Tomas Vaclik

As highlighted, Denmark have been particularly potent in attack in Euro 2020, particularly in the past two games. As such, the Czech Republic goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik can expect to be kept busy. Nevertheless, the free agent has impressed so far, his 1.9 goals prevented being the most of any goalkeeper still in the competition.

 

Denmark – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Tottenham midfielder Hojbjerg only created 14 chances in the Premier League last season, so the fact he's already on six and three assists in Euro 2020 will probably come as a shock to Spurs fans. Granted, he seems to have benefited from particularly good finishing by team-mates as his expected assists (xA) is only 0.7, yet only four players made more key passes before the quarter-finals.

Similarly, he has been involved in 30 shot-ending sequences, the most of anyone in the tournament before Friday, showing how he has also been essential to the Danes' build-up play.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Mikkel Damsgaard has been directly involved in seven goals in his six appearances for Denmark in all competitions, scoring three and assisting four. He also created more chances than any other Danish player in their 4-0 victory against Wales in the last round (three).

- Patrik Schick has scored 15 goals in 30 appearances for the Czech Republic, netting four in four games at Euro 2020 so far. Only five players have scored five times or more in their maiden European Championship, most recently Antoine Griezmann in 2016 for France (six), while one of the other previous five was Schick's compatriot Milan Baros at Euro 2004 (five).

- Schick has scored three left-footed goals at Euro 2020, the most of any player. In European Championship history, the only player to score more than three left-footed goals in a single tournament was Griezmann at Euro 2016 (four).

- This is the Czech Republic's fourth European Championship quarter-final, progressing from two of the previous three (1996 vs Portugal, 2004 vs Denmark) but failing the last time they reached this stage in 2012, losing 1-0 to Portugal.

- Denmark have nine goals so far at Euro 2020, only scoring more in a major tournament in the 1986 World Cup (10).

Gareth Bale put talk of international retirement to bed following Wales' Euro 2020 exit, saying he will play for his country until his professional career comes to an end.

Bale had previously said he would make a decision on his international future after the delayed tournament but walked out of a BBC interview when asked if he had played his last game for Wales following their 4-0 last-16 loss to Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday.

However, speaking to S4C, he made it clear he will not be calling time on his Wales career.

"I want to continue to play. People ask stupid questions all the time, but obviously I love playing for Wales," said Bale.

"I'll play for Wales until the day that I stop playing football.

"We've just started the World Cup campaign, and we need to take this experience into that.

"I feel like we have a very good way of playing when we play well and we need to keep that confidence high, keep playing football and I think we can qualify for the next World Cup."

Wales are third in Group E of UEFA qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar having taken three points from their opening two games. Belgium are top with seven points with Czech Republic in what would be a play-off spot in second.

They return to action with a qualifier in Belarus on September 5 but before then Bale will likely seek to clarify his club future.

He spent last season on loan at Tottenham, who are still without a permanent replacement for former manager Jose Mourinho, but is due to return to Real Madrid, where his contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Bale fell out of favour with Zinedine Zidane but it remains to be seen whether he will have a chance to revive his Madrid career under Carlo Ancelotti, who returned for a second spell at the club this month having delivered a long-awaited 10th Champions League crown for Los Blancos back in 2014 in his first stint. 

On target in the 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final, Bale has since won a further three Champions League titles under Zidane with Madrid.

The opening two fixtures of the last-16 stage of Euro 2020 played out on Saturday with Denmark and Italy triumphing in contrasting matches.

There were seven goals scored across the two fixtures with Denmark easing to a 4-0 victory Wales thanks to two goals from Kasper Dolberg to become the first team to reach the quarter-finals.

Italy followed them into the last eight later on the day, although their progress was much more hard fought via a 2-1 extra-time win over a spirited Austria at Wembley courtesy of substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina.

Stats Perform reflects on a day of youthful confidence and omens for later in the tournament.


Wales 0-4 Denmark: A landmark double for Dolberg 

Denmark have won each of their last four competitive meetings with Wales in a run stretching back to June 1999, and they swaggered to victory again in the first meeting between the sides in a major tournament.

The Danes showed their prowess from long range when Dolberg put them ahead with a curling shot from distance - and they have netted more goals from outside the penalty area (three) than any other side at Euro 2020. Indeed, since 1980 only France (five in 1984) and Belgium (four in 2016) have scored more from distance in a single edition of the competition.

Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals in all competitions for Denmark than the eight Dolberg has so far. At the age of 23 years 263 days, Nice striker Dolberg became the youngest player to score for Denmark in the knockout stages of the European Championship.

Dolberg also became the second Denmark player to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament (World Cup and Euros) after Henrik Larsen against the Netherlands at Euro 1992 when the Danes went on to win the tournament.

Another youngster making his mark for Denmark was Mikkel Damsgaard, who, at 20 years and 358 days, became the youngest player to assist a goal in Euros knock-out game since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004 against the Netherlands.

It was a miserable game for Wales who suffered their biggest defeat in a competitive match since a 6-1 thrashing by Serbia in September 2012. Wales had Harry Wilson sent off in Amsterdam and, following the dismissal of Ethan Ampadu against Italy, became the first team to receive two red cards in a single edition of the European Championship since Russia and Switzerland in 2004.

 

Italy 2-1 Austria: Mancini's side finally let one in

Italy have won four consecutive games at the European Championship for the second time, which bodes well for them going far, having previously done so at Euro 2000 when they ended up as losing finalists.

Chiesa and Pessina gave them a 2-1 win over Austria, and it was the was just the second time two different substitutes have scored in a European Championship game for Italy after Alessandro Altobelli and Luigi De Agostini did so in 1988 against Denmark.

Sasa Kalajdzic's goal for Austria was the first Roberto Mancini's side have let in since October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding for the Italians.

Although Austria have now lost all five of their meetings with Italy in major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), netting just two goals in these matches.

This was Italy’s eighth game at the European Championship to go to extra time, more than any other side in the history of the competition. Their two goals were their first goals in the additional 30 minutes.

Despite playing 157 minutes at Euro 2020 so far, Marco Verratti has created more chances than any other player for Italy (nine).

Kasper Dolberg described his two-goal haul against Wales as "completely crazy" after helping to fire Denmark into the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 win.

The Nice forward scored either side of half-time to put the Danes in control of Saturday's last-16 tie at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, where he previously spent three years with Ajax.

In doing so, Dolberg became only the second Denmark player after Henrik Larsen against the Netherlands in 1992 to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament.

Further goals from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite followed, either side of Harry Wilson's red card, as Kasper Hjulmand's side ran riot in Amsterdam.

Dolberg, who is Denmark's youngest scorer in the knockout stages of the Euros, received the man of the match award and struggled to sum up his emotions after the match.

"It's completely crazy. I actually don't know how I feel. This is total madness. It's surreal," he told Danish television station DR.

"It was here it all started for me with Ajax, and to play here again in this setting was insane."

 

Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals for Denmark than the eight Dolberg has managed.

He had more shots (four) and shots on target (three) than anyone on the field, despite having just five touches in the Wales box before being taken off after 70 minutes, and scored his two goals from an expected-goals (xG) return of 1.1.

"It had to end this way with him scoring on his old home ground. I had a good feeling about him, and he was fantastic," Denmark boss Hjulmand told DR.

After thrashing Russia 4-1 to book their place in the last 16, Denmark are the first side ever to score four or more goals in successive European Championship matches.

It is also the first time they have won back-to-back matches at a single major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, and a meeting with either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic awaits in next week's quarter-finals.

"It's hard to believe that this is reality. I admire the boys and the fact that we can keep fighting," Hjulmand added. "No matter who plays, they play very well. The guys are true warriors.

"We showed today we are able to be flexible. Not everything was perfect during the game but we improved and that's something we've done several times."

Gareth Bale refused to answer questions over his future after Wales crashed out of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Denmark.

Kasper Dolberg scored twice before late goals from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite sent Denmark into the quarter-finals with an emphatic win in Amsterdam.

It brought up the first time Wales have lost successive matches at a major tournament – after their defeat to Italy in the group stage – with Robert Page's team also having Harry Wilson sent off late on.

Indeed, Wales were on the receiving end of a result which saw Denmark become the first team to score four or more goals in consecutive matches in European Championship history.

After a bright start in which he went close with a long-range strike, one of three attempts he managed in total, Bale was a peripheral figure following a clever tactical tweak from Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand, whose team will face either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic in Baku next Saturday.

The 31-year-old – who is due to return to Real Madrid after spending 2020-21 on loan at Tottenham – said before the tournament that he had made a decision on his future, though he would not reveal it until Wales' campaign was over.

 

However, asked to expand on that in a pitch-side interview on BBC Sport following Wales' defeat, Bale walked immediately out of shot.

Prior to the refusal to discuss his next move, both domestically and internationally, Wales' record goalscorer said: "Of course, not how we wanted the game to go.

"We started very well the first 25 minutes. Conceded a goal and the game changed a little bit. We came out in the second half trying to play but unfortunately made a mistake to concede the goal which I guess killed the momentum on our side.

"To finish the game how we did was disappointing. The boys are frustrated and angry but I’d rather us go out like that kicking and screaming than laying off and doing nothing.

"Of course we missed an opportunity but one thing we can't fault is the effort, that's the minimum requirement of this group."

Wales were furious when Denmark's second goal was allowed to stand despite what seemed to be a foul on Kieffer Moore in the build-up.

"If you play the ball through the back of someone it's a foul," Bale added.

"I thought like the referee was being influenced by a lot of supporters here but I guess it is what it is, there's no point making excuses now. It's disappointing, that's all I can say."

Denmark know a thing or two about winning against all odds. While their 4-0 victory over Wales on Saturday may not fall into that exact category, it's fair to say their Euro 2020 campaign is very much built on such a platform.

After all, the Danes' greatest moment on the international stage, winning Euro 92, only occurred because of Yugoslavia's disqualification that came about to the breakup of the country.

This year they've had to cope with the stress of Christian Eriksen's health emergency in their group opener against Finland, the Inter midfielder suffering a cardiac arrest.

While Eriksen is on the mend, there's no doubt Denmark's inner resolve and desperation to honour the efforts of their team-mate have played a role in their performances – even if their second group game after the incident saw them suffer a slender defeat to Belgium.

The 4-1 win over Russia that followed saw Denmark become the first team in Euros history to lose their first two games but still qualify for the knockout phase. Qualification against all odds?

While Wales wanted to embrace a similar kind of 'nothing is impossible' attitude, just as they did when reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016, they were always going to be up against it versus Denmark – who essentially had a home crowd behind them in Amsterdam.

"We're playing at Christian's old home and we're so excited to give it our all against Wales," coach Kasper Hjulmand said in the build-up. "There is a huge connection between Amsterdam – and especially Ajax – and Danish football."

Wales defender Connor Roberts had suggested "99 per cent of the world" would be cheering on Denmark, a situation that Danny Ward said helped in creating a "siege mentality" in the Welsh ranks.

And there was certainly evidence of that fired-up attitude throughout, such as Wales' promising start that had them 7-1 up on the shot count (even if several were blocked) after the 18th minute, the fact Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon looked to be picking scraps wherever possible, and then there was the late red card for Harry Wilson.

Yet Wales seemed unable to tap into that adrenaline for long and Denmark began to look every inch a home side, with the fans – whether they were Danish or Dutch – seemingly responding to Hjulmand's request for the Johan Cruijff ArenA to be more red-and-white than orange.

It was only fitting, then, that Kasper Dolberg was the man to take the match by the scruff of the neck.

 

The former Ajax prodigy was considered one of the world's biggest young talents after coming through the academy in Amsterdam. While his career probably hasn't hit the heights some would have expected during his breakout in the Netherlands, there's no doubt he will have made plenty sit up and take note on Saturday.

He opened the scoring in the 27th minute, receiving a pass inside from the left courtesy of Mikkel Damsgaard, taking a touch to his right to open up a little space before rifling a gorgeous effort into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.

The Nice forward almost certainly wouldn't have started were it not for an injury to Yussuf Poulsen, but here he was, back where he made his name, doing it all over again.

His subsequent celebration, as he stood where he shot with his arms stretched outwards at his sides, reminiscent of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. "Are you not entertained?"

Well, as it happened, he would get another just after the break.

Neco Williams' clearance from Martin Braithwaite's low cross summed up much of Wales' play – panicked and utterly lacking in conviction.

Dolberg was on hand to slam an unstoppable effort into that bottom-right corner again, and from there it never looked like being anything other than a comfortable Denmark win.

In truth, Wales' setup in the group stage provided little inspiration that they would've been able to chase any kind of deficit. They only forced six high turnovers, the joint-fewest of any team, while their expected goals against of 4.8 was only lower than four other teams, all of whom finished bottom of their groups.

To maintain that level and succeed against a Denmark side who were among the most-effective sides in terms of pressing (37 high turnovers, second only to the Netherlands) and also capable of mixing up their play (more 'direct attacks' than anyone else but also only bettered by Spain and Italy in terms of 'build-ups) was going to be a tall order.

While Wales made some desperate forays forward towards the end, late goals from Joakim Maehle and Braithwaite were just rewards for Denmark's excellent game management. 

But as good as Atalanta star Maehle was (again), the day belonged to Dolberg.

Back in Amsterdam, where both he and Eriksen set out on their journeys, Dolberg's brace sent Denmark on their way to a first quarter-final at a major tournament since 2004.

 

Kasper Dolberg starred on his former stomping ground in Amsterdam as Denmark stormed to a 4-0 victory over Wales to progress to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.

In for the injured Yussuf Poulsen, ex-Ajax striker Dolberg became the first Denmark player to score twice in a Euro knockout game since Henrik Larsen in 1992 with two clinical finishes.

With the backing of a partisan crowd at the stadium where the absent Christian Eriksen made his name, Denmark hit the front midway through the first half before Dolberg – on his first start of the tournament – doubled his tally shortly after the break.

Mathias Jensen, Martin Braithwaite and Joachim Andersen all hit the woodwork, though those near-misses mattered little when Joakim Maehle made sure of an emphatic Danish victory.

Wales' misery was then compounded with Harry Wilson's harsh sending off and Braithwaite's strike in the fourth minute of added time.

 

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey took the glory, but Wales would not be through to face Denmark in the Euro 2020 last-16 stage on Saturday without the saves of Danny Ward.

On Saturday, Ward will line up for Robert Page's side, with the man who is keeping him out of the Leicester City team, Kasper Schmeichel, in the Denmark goal.

The 28-year-old Wales shot-stopper made 13 saves across his team's three group games, which is a total that was only bettered by Finland's Lukas Hradecky (15) and Turkey's Ugurcan Cakir (18).

He made on average 6.5 saves per goal conceded, the best record of all goalkeepers who were beaten at least once (Gianluigi Donnarumma and Jordan Pickford both kept three clean sheets), with Wales shipping just twice in three games.

That tight defensive record came despite Wales having an expected goals against (xGA) total of 5.47, and it meant Wales had the largest differential (3.47) between their goals-against tally and their xGA. Opta tallies expected goals figures on a formula that looks at variables including the type of assist, angle of the shot and its distance.

Bale and Ramsey unpicked Turkey to impressive effect in the second group game, but Ward's overall importance cannot be overestimated.

Now Ward and Schmeichel will be on show in Amsterdam in the opening knockout game, with Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers sure to be taking an interest.

Ward said this week: "Kasper's a good goalie and Denmark are a good team. It's going to be tough, you have to respect people, but we've got to believe in what we want to do. We fancy ourselves against anyone."

Bale, stuck in a 14-game goal drought for his country, may fancy facing Schmeichel, having scored twice against him when Tottenham beat Leicester 4-2 on the final day of the Premier League season.

Denmark have come through a testing first fortnight in the tournament, enduring the horror of seeing Christian Eriksen suffer a cardiac arrest in their opening game against Finland.

Eriksen's steady recovery – to the point where he has been able to leave hospital – has been uplifting, and coach Kasper Hjulmand is now able to focus firmly on matters on the pitch, with an emotional 4-1 win over Russia seeing the Danes through to this stage.

Hjulmand says too much emphasis has been placed on who starts games for the Danes, insisting their squad depth is a major plus point.

"We have been so strong in the second half in many matches," Hjulmand told UEFA.com. "We have been so strong in the last 20 minutes of every match. And it's just as important who is on the field when the match ends as who starts."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales - Aaron Ramsey

Driving runs from midfield behind opposition lines are such a strength of Ramsey's game, and Denmark will be wary of the Juventus man. Indeed, he has had 16 of Wales' 97 shot attempts across their Euro 2016 and Euro 2020 campaigns to date, beaten only by Bale's 33.

Denmark - Mikkel Damsgaard

The Sampdoria youngster shot into the spotlight with his supreme strike against Russia. Damsgaard has been directly involved in six goals in his five appearances for Denmark in all competitions, scoring three and assisting three. The goal against Russia made him Denmark's youngest goalscorer in a World Cup or European Championship, at the age of 20 years and 353 days.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– None of the 10 previous meetings between Wales and Denmark in all competitions have finished level, with Wales winning four to Denmark’s six. This is the first meeting between the sides since November 2018, with Denmark winning 2-1 in a Nations League match on that occasion.
– Denmark have won each of their last three competitive meetings with Wales in a run stretching back to June 1999. This is the first meeting between the sides in a major tournament.
– Denmark became the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group games.
– Wales have only lost two of their last 16 competitive matches in all competitions, although those two defeats have arrived in their last five games, including last time out against Italy. They have not suffered consecutive competitive defeats since June 2019.
– Denmark recorded 59 shots in the group stages, with the average of 19.7 shots per game their highest on record in a major tournament (Euros and World Cup).
– Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has three assists in his three games so far at Euro 2020, with no Denmark player recording more at a single edition of a World Cup or European Championship before.

With the group stage of Euro 2020 now over, we can get down to the important business: arguing over who have been the best players until now.

The first three matchdays produced some enthralling spectacles, a handful of shocks and one or two rather forgettable encounters of which there is no need to speak any more.

We have seen some rather obvious star turns, such as a certain Portugal striker equalling the record for international goals in men's football, while other standout performers have flown a little more under the radar.

Here, using Opta data for added insight, Stats Perform presents the Euro 2020 team of the group stage. Please do read on for a few explanations before starting on those angry comments...

 

 

GK: DANNY WARD

Wales battled their way into the knockout rounds after finishing second in Group A, ahead of Switzerland on goal difference. Much of that is down to Danny Ward's form.

The Leicester City man saved 86.7 of the shots on target he faced, the best record among keepers to make at least five saves.

 

LCB: DALEY BLIND

The Netherlands surprised a few people with three convincing wins in Group C, with Daley Blind's calm yet authoritative presence at the heart of their performances.

Blind completed 221 passes in the group stage, more than any other Oranje player, with more than half of those (115) coming in opposition territory.

 

CB: ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN

Quite rightly celebrated for that thunderbolt of a goal in Denmark's key victory over Russia, Andreas Christensen's all-round displays make him worthy of inclusion here.

The Chelsea defender won 79.2 of his duels in the first three rounds, a tally bettered only by Oleksandr Karavaev (80 per cent) and Thomas Vermaelen (90 per cent) among those to contest at least 10.

 

RCB: LEONARDO BONUCCI

Italy's 1.3 expected goals against was the lowest figure of any side in the group phase, underlining the imperious nature of their form not just at these finals but in the whole of their 11-game winning run in which they have not let in a single goal.

Leonardo Bonucci has been the rock at the back, particularly with Giorgio Chiellini battling injury. He has won possession 11 times, the most of any Azzurri defender, and has yet to be beaten by a dribble.

 

LWB: JORDI ALBA

Jordi Alba was Spain's standout performer until the rest of the team somewhat caught up on matchday three as they turned on the style to thrash Slovakia 5-0.

The Barcelona left-back completed 247 passes, the most of any defender after Aymeric Laporte (259), while leading the way for possession won (30 times).

 

CM: GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM

With three goals in three games, Georginio Wijnaldum surpassed the great Marco van Basten on the all-time Netherlands scoring charts to reach 25 for his country.

Enjoying a more advanced role at these finals, Paris Saint-Germain fans are being given a glimpse of what the midfielder could provide for them next season.

 

CM: PIERRE-EMILE HOJBJERG

Alongside Kevin De Bruyne, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is one of only two midfielders to create nine goalscoring chances during the group stage.

The Tottenham man set up two Denmark's goals in the 4-1 hammering of Russia to move to three assists at these finals, a tally matched only by Switzerland's Steven Zuber.

 

CM: MANUEL LOCATELLI

His two goals against Switzerland were the highlight of his group-stage displays and made Manuel Locatelli just the third Italy player to score twice in a single European Championship match.

The Sassuolo star was rested against Wales, but the quality of his performances in the first two games prompted rumours that Juventus have redoubled their efforts to sign him.

 

RWB: DENZEL DUMFRIES

Full-back Denzel Dumfries became an unlikely goalscoring hero for Frank de Boer, becoming just the second Netherlands player to score in his first two European Championship games (the first was Ruud van Nistelrooy).

Denmark wing-back Joakim Maehle was the only nominal defender with more touches in the opposition box (20) during the group stage than Dumfries (17).

 

CF: ROMELU LUKAKU

Continuing his spectacular Inter form at these finals, Romelu Lukaku scored three times in Belgium's group games from a total of just four shots on target.

He would probably be the favourite for the Golden Boot were it not for the form of the only man to outscore him in Serie A last season...

 

CF: CRISTIANO RONALDO

With five goals in three games, Cristiano Ronaldo became the leading goalscorer at the World Cup and European Championship combined (21).

The Portugal captain needs just one more to surpass Ali Daei as the top-scoring international men's footballer of all time.

Kasper Hjulmand said Denmark after thinking about Christian Eriksen "all the way" as the head coach revelled in the nation's magical night at Euro 2020.

Denmark remarkably booked their place in the last 16 of Euro 2020 with a stirring 4-1 win over Russia in Copenhagen on Monday, setting up a showdown against Wales.

After losing 1-0 to Finland – a game overshadowed by the cardiac arrest suffered by star midfielder Eriksen – and 2-1 to star-studded Belgium, Denmark's hopes of making the knockout stages were slim before the clash at the Parken Stadium. 

But Denmark produced a devastating performance to open their account at Euro 2020 and seal second spot in Group B thanks to goals from Mikkel Damsgaard, Yussuf Poulsen, Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle.

Denmark became the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group-stage games, while it also marked the first time Denmark had scored four goals in a major tournament game since a 4-1 victory over Nigeria at the 1998 World Cup.

"What a night. We hoped that it would be a magic night at Parken," Hjulmand told reporters. "I want to start by saying thank you to all the people who have been supporting us and have shown so much love.

"I don't think it would have been possible without all the support. I could feel that it really affected the players, so thank you so much for all the support. It means the world to us.

"The motivation, the team spirit and the friendship among the players were amazing. We played three games at a very high level, and if anyone deserves this, it's our players. I can't imagine how they managed to come back from what they went through, so a big credit to the boys. Thanks a lot for the support we've got from the whole of Denmark.

"I think it helps the team and hopefully it gives the country some good moments. It's something we all love, so thank you and a huge congratulations to the boys. It's really awesome."

Hjulmand added: "I have to say that the team spirit we have, and how everyone contributes, is amazing. And then mixing it up with amazing performances is just fantastic.

"AC [Andreas Christensen] is one of the best defenders out there. He has everything that a player needs. Joakim [Maehle], I don't know if he is still running out there. He just runs. He's very, very strong. He runs a lot. I don't know what he's taking, but he runs a lot. He manages the left side, but that's of course with more players. That's part of the team spirit, and people who didn't get to play today, I respect them a lot. I respect the people who did contribute on the pitch, the technical staff.

"It's hard to describe what this team has been through in the past four weeks. We're thinking about Christian [Eriksen] all the way, and Wales are a very tough opponent. They came very far last time. They have really great players, so I think it's going to a very equal game. They're very flexible, they change their strategies and their positions, so it's going to be hard to know what to expect from that time.

"It's just like with ourselves. We started a little weakly, but we moved AC and changed a few positions, and that's what Wales do a lot. It's going to be a very interesting and equal game."

Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov said: "I thanked the guys for what they've done. They were up for this game but it just didn't go our way. We could have taken our chances in the first half but didn't, then conceded a goal from a half-chance and couldn't get back in the game. We have to think about all of this and move forward."

Denmark lit up Euro 2020 on Monday as they thumped Russia 4-1 to finish second in Group B and progress to the last 16.

Belgium ran out winners in that group after a 2-0 win over Finland, with Markku Kanerva's side finishing third by virtue of an inferior goal difference to Denmark.

In Group C, the Netherlands sealed top spot with a 3-0 victory against rock-bottom North Macedonia, with Austria joining them in the knockout stages after overcoming Ukraine, who finished third. 

Using Opta data, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the best facts from Monday's games.

Russia 1-4 Denmark: Hjulmand's side progress in spectacular fashion

Denmark produced one of the standout displays of the tournament so far to set up a last-16 clash with Wales in Amsterdam on Saturday. 

The sensational win meant Denmark became the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group-stage games.

It also marked the first time Denmark had scored four goals in a major tournament game since a 4-1 victory over Nigeria at the 1998 World Cup.

Mikkel Damsgaard put Denmark ahead shortly before the interval to become his country's youngest ever goalscorer at a major tournament, with the forward also the first player born in the 2000s to score in the European Championship. 

Yussuf Poulsen added a second, the RB Leipzig man netting in consecutive games for Denmark for only the second time, also doing so in June 2018 against Mexico in a friendly and Peru at the World Cup.

Artem Dzyuba then scored his 30th international goal to move level with Aleksandr Kerzhakov as the all-time joint top-scorer for Russia – since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR), but Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle wrapped up a memorable win for Kasper Hjulmand's side.

Finland 0-2 Belgium: Martinez's Red Devils march on in style

This latest victory means Belgium have won all three group games at back-to-back major tournaments, while it is the first time they have won all of their group fixtures at a single European Championship tournament.

Belgium went ahead in the 74th minute when Thomas Vermaelen's header from a corner bounced up onto the post and went in off the unfortunate Lukas Hradecky's hand.

Hradecky became just the second goalkeeper in European Championship history to score an own goal after Wojciech Szczesny for Poland against Slovakia earlier in the tournament.

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku then netted his third goal of the tournament seven minutes later.

Since making his major international tournament debut for Belgium in 2014, the Inter forward has scored 10 goals in such competitions – only Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and France's Antoine Griezmann have scored more major tournament goals for a European nation during this period (11 each).

Belgium's Jeremy Doku (19 years and 25 days), meanwhile, became the second youngest player to appear for the nation at a European Championship tournament after Enzo Scifo (18 years and 115 days).

North Macedonia 0-3 Netherlands: Oranje make history in third consecutive win

Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum starred as the Netherlands won all three of their group-stage games at the European Championship for the third time (also 2000 and 2008) – more than any other side in the competition.

Their latest win meant the Oranje have scored two goals in 10 successive games for the first time ever, while they now have 65 goals at the European Championship finals, leapfrogging France into second place to sit behind only Germany (76) in the competition's history. 

Barcelona-bound Depay got the Netherlands on their way with his 50th goal involvement in 67 appearances for the national team (28 goals and 22 assists). He has now been involved in 13 goals in his last 10 games for the Oranje in all competitions (nine goals and four assists).

In his 78th appearance for the Netherlands, Paris Saint-Germain recruit Wijnaldum scored his 24th and 25th goals. Fifteen of these strikes have been in his 25 games since the start of 2019, with no player scoring more for the Dutch during this time.

North Macedonia, meanwhile, are just the fourth team to lose 100 per cent of their matches at their first appearance in the European Championships, after Turkey in 1996, Denmark in 1964 and France in 1960.

Ukraine 0-1 Austria: Baumgartner seals last-16 spot

This win meant Austria progressed to the knockout stages of a European Championship for the first time in their history. 

They were in dominant mood against their meek opponents, taking 18 shots – a tally they have only bettered twice before in a European Championship game (23 against Iceland in 2016 and 20 against Croatia in 2008).

Austria only found the back of the net once, though, Christoph Baumgartner becoming the youngest player ever to score for the nation at the European Championship, aged 21 years and 324 days.

He was teed up by Real Madrid's David Alaba, who registered his third assist in six appearances for Austria in the competition – two more than any other Austrian. 

Ukraine, meanwhile, have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their nine games at the European Championship – the most matches played in the competition by a team without having their defence breached.

France, England, Switzerland, Sweden and the Czech Republic qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2020 due to results on Monday.

With Finland and Ukraine finishing on three points in Group B and C respectively, four nations were guaranteed to advance ahead of their third matches of the tournament and Switzerland's spot in the next stage was also sealed.

Finland and Ukraine can only watch on and hope they can scrape through as one of the best four third-placed teams after they suffered defeats in their final group games, both finishing with three points.

A 2-0 defeat to Belgium resulted in Finland missing out on second place to Denmark, who knocked Russia out with a resounding 4-1 win in Copenhagen.

Ukraine were beaten 1-0 by Austria earlier in the day, missing out on a top-two spot to Franco Foda's side - who progressed from the group stage for the first time in a European Championship.

Switzerland will qualify along with Italy and Wales in Group A, having amassed four points.

The Czech Republic and England meet at Wembley on Tuesday knowing they will go through, as they both have four points to their name.

The same goes for Group F leaders and world champions France ahead of their final match against holders Portugal on Wednesday.

Group E leaders Sweden will start their encounter with Poland on Wednesday knowing even a defeat would see them through, as they lead the way with four points.

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