Denmark provides feel good story of group stages with unlikely qualification

1 month ago 16
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(CNN)In the space of just nine days, Copenhagen's Parken Stadium played host to Euro 2020's worst moment and then its best.

On June 12, Denmark's midfield talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed during the first half of his country's opening Group B game against Finland and suffered a cardiac arrest.

His distraught teammates gathered around him during the medical staff's prolonged efforts to resuscitate him with CPR and a defibrillator, with players from both teams, as well as fans in the stadium, visibly distressed.

    When the match was surprisingly resumed later that afternoon, Denmark fell to a 1-0 defeat to Finland to dent its hopes of reaching the last 16 and any remaining chance of progressing to the knockout stages seemed to disappear with a 2-1 defeat by Belgium.

      However, a 4-1 hammering of Russia coupled with Finland's 2-0 defeat by Belgium in the final group game meant that Denmark ended up finishing second in Group B.

      No wonder the Danish team, backed by its vociferous fans inside the Parken Stadium and the whole of Denmark, was celebrating its remarkable achievement.

      Denmark has a history of upsetting the odds at the European Championships.

      At Euro '92, the Danish national team shocked the continent by going on the win a tournament they hadn't even qualified for, but were given a late invitation after Yugoslavia's expulsion.

      To this day, it remains the country's greatest sporting achievement.

      Denmark's Joakim Maehle, right, celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal against Russia.

      Surprise packages

      If Denmark's progression to the last 16 came as something of a shock given the challenges its squad has to overcome, Italy is another team that has surprised many at Euro 2020.

      The Italian national team had been on a steady decline since winning the World Cup in 2006, a downturn that culminated in the team failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 -- the first time that had happened since 1958.

      Known historically for its rugged and ridged defense, the 2021 version of Italy has been a joy to watch and has perhaps been the most exciting team of the tournament so far.

      Head coach Roberto Mancini -- who has drawn as much attention for his suave match day attire (Giorgio Armani, of course) as he has his tactics -- may not have torn up the Italian textbook completely, still relying on defensive stalwarts Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, but the likes of Leonardo Spinazzola and Manuel Locatelli have given this team an exciting attacking edge.

      Roberto Mancini has lit up the Euros with his Giorgio Armani suit.

      For an additional boost to the national team's Euro 2020 hopes, Marco Verratti's return from injury has already provided Italy with another gear to move into.

      The Paris Saint-Germain star put in a masterful performance against Wales, orchestrating the team from midfield with his silky touch and precision passing.

      Mancini made eight changes to his starting lineup for that final Group A game, but the system and team cohesion remained exactly the same.

      Few teams will relish the prospect of facing this Italian side, but Austria must do just that when the two teams meet at Wembley in the round of 16 on Saturday.

      The Netherlands -- similarly, but perhaps not to the same extent as Italy -- have also emerged as an outside bet to go all the way and lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

      Their fans certainly seem to think so.

      Georginio Wijnaldum has been in fine form for the Netherlands.

      Following the 3-0 win over North Macedonia, which secured the Netherlands a 100% group stage record, supporters of the Oranje had already started singing that their team is Euro 2020 champion.

      While they may be getting ahead of themselves a little, it's fair to say the team's performances have given them cause for optimism.

      Though Frank de Boer's side has shown some defensive frailties, notably in the 3-2 win over Ukraine, the team's performances have improved as the tournament has progressed.

      In Georginio Wijnaldum, who is now the tournament's joint-top scorer after his double over North Macedonia, the Netherlands have a midfield maestro playing at the peak of his powers, while the marauding Denzel Dumfries has emerged as arguably the best full back of the tournament.

      Up front, the duo of Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen look as deadly as any at Euro 2020 so far and it will take some performance from the Czech Republic to stop them in the round of 16 on Sunday.

      From dark horse to dud horse

      Turkey came into Euro 2020 touted by many to be the tournament's 'dark horse.'

      The squad boasts some talented names, many of who play their club football in Europe's most prestigious leagues, but none of that potential was realized as the team fell to three defeats from three matches, scoring just one goal and conceding eight.

      Turkey may have one of the youngest squads at Euro 2020, but that inexperience alone can't explain how the team crashed to the fifth worst performance in European Championship history.

      Mert Muldur looks dejected following the defeat to Switzerland.

      However, Turkey's debacle at this tournament may well be a learning curve this young squad needs to mature ahead of the World Cup that begins in Qatar next year.

      The national team has got off to a solid start in World Cup qualifying, winning two and drawing one of its opening three matches to lead the group ahead of the Netherlands, a team it beat in the opening round of fixtures.

      Head coach Senol Gunes conceded that his team "were not good enough" during Euro 2020 and it's likely the country's dismal showing will have led to many Turkish fans wanting a new name in charge.

      Group of Death

      Hungary was the unfortunate sole victim of Euro 2020's 'Group of Death,' as France, Germany and Portugal squeezed through to the round of 16.

      For most of Thursdays matches, it looked as though Hungary would progress in third place at the expense of Germany, but Leon Goretzka's late goal salvaged a 2-2 draw that was enough to send the 2014 world champion into the knockout stages.

        In what was without doubt the most riveting finale to any of Euro 2020's groups, the other match between France and Portgual also finished 2-2, with Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty on the hour mark -- the third spot kick of the match -- enough to spare the defending champion's blushes and ensure there would be no early exit.

        The final Group F standings set up a couple of mouthwatering round of 16 ties, with England set to welcome old rival Germany at Wembley on Tuesday and Portugal versus Belgium -- the first ever meeting between the countries at a major tournament -- scheduled for Sunday at Sevilla's Estadio La Cartuja.

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