Denmark make the long trip east on Saturday evening for a quarter-final tie with the Czech Republic in Baku’s Olympic Stadium, where the temperature looks set to be in the high 20s and there’s a semi-final berth on the line.
It’s been a bittersweet journey for the Danes, who watched their star player almost lose his life on the field against Finland in their tournament opener before rallying against Russia to qualify from Group B with just three points.
They didn’t rest on their laurels though and dismantled Wales in the Round of 16, led by an unbelievable performance from wing-back Joakim Maehle and a brace from striker Kasper Dolberg – who was only in the starting xi following a late injury to RB Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen.
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What was most impressive about their performance though, was the mid-game changes made by manager Kasper Hjulmand. Upon noticing how much space Ramsey had behind his two midfielders in their initial 3-5-2, he opted to nudge Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen into a deep midfield role and switched to a 4-3-3.
The move immediately nullified Wales’ threat, and was the platform by which they were able to qualify for a first European Championship quarter-finals since 2004 – where they were knocked out by this evening’s opponents.
Czech Republic won that game 3-0 with goals from Milan Baros (2) and Jan Koller, and this side will be looking to channel the spirit of that side which peaked at 2nd in the FIFA World Rankings a year later.
It’s been an interesting journey for Jaroslav Šilhavý’s side, who stunned the world in knocking out Group C winners Netherlands in the Last 16. It was a masterclass in working as a unit against the plethora of attacking talent that the Oranje boasts, before Matthias de Ligt’s brainless red card turned the game on it’s head.
The Czech’s were able to exploit the gap left by the Juventus centre-back, targeting the left-hand side of their undermanned defence to secure their spot in the Quarter-Finals.
That lack of options saw Patrick van Aanholt caught on the ball at his own corner flag, with the free-kick he conceded leading to Tomas Holes’ opener.
It left Frank De Boer looking pretty silly for not making changes sooner; and Patrick Schick had added his fourth goal of the tournament before the man, once described by Jose Mourinho as ‘the worst manager in Premier League history’, had thought to bring another centre-back on.
There are no fresh injury concerns for Czechia either, with left-back Jan Boril returning from suspension and team captain Vladimir Darida available for selection after both missed the last round.
For Denmark Yussuf Poulsen should be back involved, though Dolberg’s brace may keep him out of the side. Daniel Wass is over the illness that kept him out of the Wales game, and could return at right-wing-back.
Suspension Watch: Mikkel Damsgaard, Thomas Delaney, Mathias Jensen, and Daniel Wass are a card away from missing a potential semi-final for Denmark; whilst Czech Republic’s Vladimir Coufal, Adam Hlozek, and Lukas Masopust all risk suspension.
Denmark v Czech Rep: The Man in the Middle
Taking control of this one is Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers, who has already overseen two games at the Championships so far. He showed four cards in each match, including Denmark’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium on Matchday Two – whilst also awarding a penalty to Spain in their 5-0 demolition of Slovakia.
He’s been rather conservtative outside of those matches though. In 20 Eredivisie games last season, he showed just 41 cards at a rate of 2.05 per game – an average that only increased slightly in non-Dutch games to 3.08.
Denmark v Czech Rep: The Bets
I was a little shocked to see that Denmark are above Evens to win this game, given their underlying stats have been some of the best in the competition.
They rank second on ‘Expected Goals For’ AND ‘Expected Goals Against’ among quarter-final sides – creating chances totalling 7.10xG and conceding opportunities worth just 2.50xG.
The Czechs, on the other hand, rank at the opposite end of the spectrum on both metrics – having actually conceded (4.70) more goal-scoring opportunities than they’ve created (3.50). As you can probably tell, I’ll be taking Denmark to Win at 11/9 with SBK.
Elsewhere, I like the plus-money price on Joakim Mahele to have Over 0.5 Shots On Target.
He’s evens with SkyBet to hit the target for the 7th time in his last four games for the Danes – a selection that is as short as ⅖ elsewhere.
The marauding wing-back has been the latest revelation from Atalanta’s apparent production line of incredible talent at the position, and he’s been integral for his national side so far at the tournament.
In each of his last three matches he’s managed two shots on target, so odds of 5/1 for him to do the same again certainly appeal.
In terms of a BetBuilder for this one, I’m sticking with the De rød-hvide and backing Denmark to Qualify, Denmark 5+ Corners, Denmark 12+ Free-Kicks and Czech Republic Over 0 Cards at 11/4 with bet365.
I went into great depth on the Czech’s foul troubles in international competition before the Scotland game, and how they’ve averaged 16.2 fouls per game since the 2018 World Cup. They’ve been true to form at this tournament too, committing 15 and 16 against Netherlands and Croatia respectively.
They’ve also earned five cards from their four games at the tournament, and averaged 2.0 per game in qualifying.
As far as corners are concerned; the Danish contingent have accumulated 6.75 corners per game, whilst their opponents have allowed six or more in three of their four games – only keeping a Croatia side that averaged 2.8 per game below that threshold.
Denmark v Czech Rep: Selections
Denmark to Win at 11/9 with SBK
Joakim Maehle 1+ Shot On Target at evs with Paddypower
Joakim Maehle 2+ Shots On Target at 5/1 with Paddypower
Denmark to Qualify, Denmark 5+ Corners, Denmark 12+ Free-Kicks and Czech Republic Over 0 Cards at 11/4 with bet365.