For Wales it was a frustrating case of what might have been as their twin hopes of securing a Euro 2020 play-off berth and promotion to Group A of the Nations League were extinguished by a ruthless and streetwise Denmark side. Nicolai Jørgensen delivered the first blow, expertly finishing off a sweeping move that saw Denmark go from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye, before Martin Braithwaite volleyed home the second two minutes from time.
Unable to break Denmark down for so much of the game, Wales roused in the dying moments and pulled a goal back through Gareth Bale within seconds of Braithwaite’s strike. The sight of the fourth official indicating that there were five additional minutes lifted the home supporters but Denmark are too good a team to make the same mistake twice.
Åge Hareide’s side have lost only once inside 90 minutes in 24 matches – a farcical defeat at the hands of Slovakia when they were forced to field a makeshift team after a dispute between the players and the football association over commercial rights – and it is easy to see why they have such a formidable record. The visitors managed the game superbly after taking the lead, restricting Wales to few goalscoring opportunities in the second half and marginalising the influence of Bale, who came to life only in the final 15 minutes, and Aaron Ramsey, who was subdued throughout.
It was certainly not the sort of exhilarating attacking performance that Wales delivered at home against the Republic of Ireland a couple of months ago, when a callow team cut through their opponents almost at will. David Brooks was an effervescent presence for Wales here and carried a real threat whenever he picked up the ball but there was not enough conviction about the rest of Ryan Giggs’s team when they attacked Denmark.
“You are always disappointed when you lose but I am proud of the players and the performances they put on against a very good team,” Giggs said. “They are efficient, they are experienced and disciplined and they got the job done. We can learn from that. There are things we can do better – you can’t score every time you attack; you have to be patient. And you have to know when to give cheap fouls away.”
One foul late on, by Kasper Dolberg on Ethan Ampadu, raised the temperature on the pitch and prompted a melee. Dolberg was booked for a challenge that Giggs called “a cheap shot” and led to the Wales manager exchanging words with Hareide on the touchline. Ampadu wasted no time in exacting retribution, much to the delight of the Wales fans, and also received a yellow card. “I want to see it, as long as they don’t go overboard,” said Giggs, when asked about Ampadu’s reaction. “It shows they are not going to get bullied.”
Although Denmark were the more accomplished team, Wales will reflect on a couple of key moments that could easily have gone their way and changed the course of the game. The first was when James Chester squandered a golden chance to put them ahead in the 10th minute, when the central defender profligately headed Brooks’s cross wide from only six yards out. Another critical moment arrived nine minutes from time, when Kasper Schmeichel produced an outstanding save to keep out Bale’s free-kick and deny Wales an equaliser.
Wales had been forced to chase the game after conceding shortly before the interval and it was a counter-attacking goal of the highest quality. The move started just outside Denmark’s own penalty area when Yussuf Poulsen seized on a loose ball and fed it into the feet of Nicolai Jørgensen. Thomas Delaney was perfectly placed to receive the striker’s lay-off and cleverly picked out Poulsen’s run on the Denmark right. The next pass, delivered first time by Poulsen, was the killer ball that carved Wales open and exposed Chester’s lack of pace and poor positioning. Jørgensen sprinted in behind and calmly slid the ball under the advancing Wayne Hennessey.