The EURO 2020 story came to an end for Cymru in Amsterdam on Saturday as Denmark claimed a 4-0 victory in the round of 16 to book their place in the quarter-final.
UEFA EURO 2020
Cymru 0-4 Denmark
- Dolberg 27' 48', Maehle 88', Braithwaite 90+4'
Cymru made an encouraging start to the match despite Denmark having the first effort on goal through Kasper Dolberg, and it was the trio of captain Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James who created opportunities during a positive and confident opening from Rob Page's side.
Denmark soon settled into the match as they adapted to Cymru's tactical approach by switching to a back four with Andreas Christensen keeping in close contact with Ramsey and neutralising his influence on the game. With Denmark enjoying longer periods of possession, the side forced a series of corners as the Cyrmu defence came under intense pressure.
On 27 minutes, Denmark took the lead as Joakim Mæhle and Mikkel Damsgaard combined to split the Cymru defence and it was Dolberg who made amends for his earlier effort as he curled a fine shot past Danny Ward at the far post. Minutes later, Ward was on hand to save from Dolberg as Damsgaard again turned creator for the goalscorer as Denmark looked in complete control.
On 38 minutes, Connor Roberts injured himself stretching for a ball from Joe Morrell, and once it was clear he could not continue Neco Williams replaced him on the right. It brought to an end a difficult and frustrating opening half for Cymru which left manager Rob Page with plenty to think about ahead of a huge 45 minutes with Denmark emulating the form that saw them defeat Russia to qualify from their group.
The match was effectively over within minutes of the restart. Although Kieffer Moore appeared to have been fouled in the build-up, Williams failed to clear Martin Braithwaite's cross and Dolberg was in space to score his second of the game. Cymru showed a positive reaction and a tactical change to enable them to create a number of half-chances, but Bale, James and Joe Allen could not test goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Cymru will want to forget the final moments as Joakim Mæhle confirmed Denmark's place in the quarter-final as he cut back in the area and scored on 88 minutes. Substitute Harry Wilson was then shown a straight red card for a late tackle, and Braithwaite completed the scoring after a long VAR check in the final seconds of the match. It was a frustrating end to a frustrating afternoon for Cymru in Amsterdam.
The new establishment – While a few of the heroes of EURO 2016 again played an influential part in this latest campaign, it proved to be a defining tournament for a number of players in Rob Page's squad. Goalkeeper Danny Ward's performances have made him the outright number one, while Joe Rodon played every minute of all four games in the centre of defence. Joe Morrell has been entrusted with a defensive responsibilities of the deeper midfield role, while Connor Roberts successfully transferred his club form to the international stage before suffering an injury just before the break. All four can take positive memories from the tournament once the frustration subsides.
Benefit of experience – While the raw emotion of the defeat will be tough for this young squad to take right now, competing at the finals of EURO 2020 will be an incredibly valuable experience for players like Ethan Ampadu, Neco Williams, Harry Wilson and many others, including those who did not make it onto the field this time around. David Brooks and Tyler Roberts entered the field in the second half as an indication of what is to come, and there will be more major finals in the future for this talented young squad. This is just another step in the journey.
Taking the positives – The competition may have come to a frustrating end in Amsterdam, but Cymru can reflect on plenty of positives before the side return to World Cup qualifying in September. Qualifying as group runners-up defied the expectations set by many outsides, while the performance in the 2-0 win over Turkey was an exceptional display under pressure to get a result. The togetherness and team spirit in the group has not wavered, and Rob Page and his staff can ultimately be proud of what this team has achieved.
DIOLCH #TheRedWall— Wales (@Cymru) June 26, 2021
To all that supported from home.
To all that made the journeys despite the odds.
It has meant the world to us. Fe godwn ni eto.#WAL | #EURO2020 | #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/cQFPe2uWj2
“It wasn't how we wanted the game to go. We started very well in the first 25 minutes but we conceded a goal and the game changed a little bit. The second goal killed the momentum on our side and to finish the game as we did is disappointing. The boys are frustrated and angry, but I would rather us go out kicking and screaming than laying down and doing nothing. We've missed an opportunity but one thing we can't fault is the effort the boys have shown. That's the minimum requirement for this group and I'm proud of them all.” - Captain Gareth Bale speaking to BBC Sport.
This was a fixture that reflected how tough a tournament this was for Cymru. Progressing as runners-up through a difficult group was an impressive achievement headlined by the win over Turkey, but Denmark were a team with momentum, support, and having played their opening three games in Copenhagen, did not come close to matching the air miles claimed by Cymru with trips to Baku, Rome and Amsterdam. Inspired by the continued recovery of Christian Eriksen, Denmark were deserved winners on the day.
Despite a handful of early chances, it simply did not happen for Cymru against Denmark, and they took full advantage once their early tactical shift had nullified the influence of our key players. Rob Page and his staff must now reflect and take the positives from the whole campaign, and they will have learnt a lot about their players and themselves over the course of the last month. Elimination is always difficult to accept, but Cymru will be better for this experience in the long-term.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), C. Roberts (N. Williams 40), Mepham, Rodon, B. Davies, Allen, Morrell (Wilson 60), Bale, Ramsey, James (Brooks 78), Moore (T. Roberts 78).
Subs: Hennessey (GK), A. Davies (GK), Gunter, Lockyer, J. Williams, Levitt, Cabango, Smith.
Rob Page made his preferred starting line-up clear at the beginning of the tournament and there was no surprise to see the manager revert to the team that started the opening two group games against Switzerland and Turkey.
Denmark XI: Schmeichel, Christensen, Kjær (Anderson 77), Vestergaard, Stryger Larsen (Boilesen 77), Højbjerg, Delaney (Jensen 60), Mæhle, Damsgaard (Nørgaard 60), Dolberg (Cornelius 69), Braithwaite.
Subs: Lössl (GK), Rønnow (GK), Skov, Skov Olsen, M. Jorgensen, Wind, Christiansen.
Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand made two enforced changes from the victory over Russia as Jens Stryger Larsen and Kasper Dolberg replaced Daniel Wass and Yussuf Poulsen with the latter duo not included in the squad through reported illness and a hamstring injury respectively.