Wales captain Gareth Bale said on Friday they will embrace their own underdog status against Denmark, the neutrals’ favourites in the last 16 of the European Championship, adding they will not underestimate their quality.
Wales finished runners-up in Group A behind Italy to reach the knockout stages for a second successive Euros, having soared to the semi-finals in 2016.
Denmark stormed into the last 16 with a 4-1 win over Russia in their final group game – days after Christian Eriksen’s collapse due to a cardiac arrest – and will be playing in Amsterdam where they expect a Danish contingent to spur them on.
“We’re always the underdog. We’re used to that tag,” Bale told reporters ahead of Saturday’s match. “But it doesn’t make a difference to us. That’s normal anyway.
“We understand the situation that happened with them and we’ve obviously sent all our best wishes to Christian Eriksen. Come game day tomorrow… hopefully we can put a great performance in and get the job done.”
Wales boss Robert Page echoed the sentiment, saying that they need to try to ignore the emotion attached to the game and added they were prepared for a “tough challenge” having seen Denmark nearly get a result against group toppers Belgium.
“We watched their performance against a very, very good Belgium outfit and (they) more than held their own (in a 2-1 loss),” Page said.
“They haven’t fluked their way here, they’ve earned the right to be here. We’re up against a very good outfit.”
Page confirmed everyone in the squad was fit and available for selection with the exception of defender Ethan Ampadu, who is suspended after his red card in Wales‘ 1-0 defeat by Italy on Sunday.
Having rested key players against Italy due to the risk of yellow card suspensions, Page said they would now throw caution to the wind.
“The gloves are off now, we’re in the knockout stages. There’s no managing bookings,” he said, adding that he had also asked players to practice penalties in the event of a shootout, including the walk-up from the half line.
“We always practice them… Come the situation tomorrow, if penalties are required, I’m sure all the boys will be willing to step up for our country,” Bale added.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand is hoping his nation’s long love affair with Dutch football in general and Ajax Amsterdam in particular will stand to them when they take on Wales.
The two sides meet at the Johan Cruyff Arena where many Danes have represented Ajax over the years, including playmaker Christian Eriksen, who is recovering following a cardiac arrest against Finland in Denmark’s opening game.
“If any club outside the borders has meant anything to Danish football, this (Ajax) is it. There is a very big connection between Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Denmark,” Hjulmand told a news conference.
“Christian (Eriksen) left home when he was 16, and this is his second home. We also have (Kasper) Dolberg and (Nicolai) Boilesen. There are so many players who have gotten their football upbringing here,” he added.
The Danes beat Wales twice in the UEFA Nations League in 2028, but Hjulmand said that those results will count for nothing when the two sides meet again.
“It was a team that was somewhere else at the time when Denmark last met them. They were in the process of making some changes. From there, they have had three good years,” Hjulmand explained.
One player who is still in the setup is Gareth Bale, who has spent the last season playing alongside Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at Tottenham Hotspur in England.
“In the last ten years, not many people have done what he has done. Scored over 100 goals for Real Madrid. He’s a class player, a great guy. One of the best players I have played with,” Hojbjerg told reporters.
“I wish the best for him, just not (on Saturday),” he added.
Hojbjerg doesn’t agree with Bale that Wales are the underdogs on Saturday, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has said that he and the Danes aren’t taking anything for granted.
“If you know anything about football, you know that the next match is the most important. We are not thinking about that match after the next one,” Hojbjerg said.
Hjulmand believes his side is now fully recovered from the shock of Eriksen’s collapse.
“We have gotten over a traumatic experience and we know that we are warriors. We went in there again that same evening. We played against the strongest national team (Belgium) a few days later,” Hjulmand said.
“This team has shown mental strength for several years, we know that we just get stronger and stronger as time goes on,” he added.