Denmark have missed out on a place in the final four of the Nations League despite beating France 2-0 in Copenhagen.
The hosts came into this game well aware that, having lost 2-1 to Croatia in Zagreb last Thursday, only a win – combined with a draw or defeat for the Croats against Austria – would propel them to the summit and through to next summer’s finals. France, meanwhile, arrived at Parken knowing that, even if they lost, only victory for Austria could condemn them to relegation.
France had the better of the first 20 minutes, Kylian Mbappe forcing Kasper Schmeichel to make a good save early on before Dayot Upamecano saw a header deflected wide at a corner. Denmark’s defenders blocked a series of shots before Mbappe decided to change tack, playing a nice one-two with Ferland Mendy before teeing up Antoine Griezmann for a shot which Schmeichel spilled dangerously.
Eduardo Camavinga followed up with a couple of shots from just outside the box, the first off target and the second deflected wide, before Joakim Maehle came close to scoring an own goal with a skewed clearance. That was as good as it got for France in the first half, however, as Denmark burst into life.
In a sign of things to come, Christian Eriksen picked out Andreas Skov Olsen with a fantastic long ball from deep only for Alphonse Areola to keep out his team-mate at close range. Eriksen then set up Thomas Delaney for a free header at a corner but, once again, Areola made the save.
Areola could do little when, on the 35-minute mark, Eriksen played a raking diagonal ball to Mikkel Damsgaard out wide on the left. He crossed to Kasper Dolberg who, at full stretch, diverted the ball into the back of the net.
France’s set-piece defending was nothing short of abysmal, with Delaney again going close at a corner before Eriksen forced Areola to tip a delivery over the crossbar. With half-time approaching and Denmark’s corner count ticking ever upwards, the visitors failed to clear and Delaney teed up Olsen to score from the edge of the area.
The visitors did their best to battle their way back into the game after the break, with Schmeichel making three saves in five minutes at one stage to deny Mbappe. France couldn’t find a way through but, with Croatia beating Austria 3-1 in Vienna, Denmark were left with a strange mix of triumph and disappointment at the final whistle.
TALKING POINT – DRAMATIC FINISH IN GROUP A1
At half-time, Denmark were back at the top of the group and looked set to go through to the finals. Having opened the scoring against Austria through Luka Modric early on, Croatia had been pegged back by a goal from Christoph Baumgartner and were struggling to make inroads.
In the end, two goals in three minutes from Marko Livaja and Dejan Lovren were enough to turn the tables decisively in Croatia’s favour. Having come so close to overhauling Zlatko Dalic’s side, Denmark’s victory will taste bittersweet.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (DENMARK)
He ended the game with neither a goal nor an assist to his name, but Eriksen’s performance was truly outstanding.
As well as providing the ball to Damsgaard which led to the opener and the corner delivery which ended with Olsen doubling Denmark’s lead, Eriksen orchestrated the midfield with sublime skill and poise. When he turns on the style, there are few better playmakers in world football.
Denmark: Schmeichel 8, Nissen 7, Andersen 7, Christensen 7, Maehle 7, Delaney 8, Eriksen 9, Hojbjerg 7, Olsen 8, Dolberg 7, Damsgaard 8
Subs: Lindstrom 6, Hojlund 5, Kjaer 6, Braithwaite 5, Bah N/A
France: Areola 6, Pavard 6, Saliba 5, Upamecano 5, Badiashile 5, Mendy 6, Tchouameni 6, Camavinga 5, Griezmann 6, Giroud 4, Mbappe 6
Subs: Fofana 5, Clauss 5, Nkunku 6, Truffert 5, Kolo Muani 5
6’ GOOD SAVE! France win a corner and Griezmann takes it, finding Mbappe at the far post. He lashes a shot on target from a tight angle, but Schmeichel palms the ball away.
13’ FRANCE TURN UP THE HEAT. The visitors have a series of shots blocked before Mbappe tries something new, playing a nice one-two with Mendy before picking out Griezmann in a promising position. He slips as he shoots, but still gets enough force behind the effort that Schmeichel spills the ball as he saves and has to scramble to recover.
19’ ALMOST AN OWN GOAL! Maehle tries to deal with a ball into the box but skews his clearance horribly, almost beating Schmeichel at the far post. Luckily for him, the ball trickles just wide.
20’ DENMARK GO CLOSE! Eriksen plays a fantastic long ball from deep which falls perfectly for Olsen as he ghosts into the area. Olsen takes a lovely touch before thrashing a shot at goal, but Areola makes a reflex save.
35’ GOAL! And what a goal it is. Eriksen plays a beautiful diagonal ball to Damsgaard out wide on the left. He crosses to Dolberg, who stretches and turns the ball past Areola.
40’ GOAL! France’s defending at corners has been all over the shop. This time, after the visitors fail to clear, Delaney tees up Olsen on the edge of the area and he thunders a shot into the back of the net.
66’ HUGE SAVE! Griezmann plays a lovely ball between the Denmark centre-backs and Mbappe goes clean through. Schmeichel closes the angles and, one-on-one with France’s talismanic forward, makes an excellent save.
67’ AND ANOTHER! Mbappe unleashes a fierce drive from the edge of the area, but Schmeichel saves with his legs.
69’ SCHMEICHEL SAVES AGAIN! Nkunku knocks the ball down for Mbappe in the box. He leathers a shot on target, but Schmeichel denies him once more.