Denmark heads to the World Cup aiming to upset the bigger nations using a mix of intelligence, trust in each other and flexible tactics, team coach Kasper Hjulmand told Reuters.
When Christian Eriksen collapsed during his side’s first Euro 2020 group game against Finland in June 2021, few would have expected them to reach the tournament semifinals before cruising through qualification for Qatar.
Widely praised for his handling of the emotional rollercoaster of Eriksen’s collapse and subsequent recovery and return to football, Hjulmand has steered his side with a steady hand.
“For me, it’s all about the quality of the players and then putting the team together in a way so we can compete in different ways against different opponents,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“When I analyse national team football, I think what we are trying to do is on the collective side and the tactical side, to always have something to do in the matches, so we have some different ways of playing.”
Hjulmand revealed that his side often shifts tactics and formations several times during games against teams like France, which Denmark beat twice in the last Nations League campaign and will meet again in Group D in Qatar.
“At the Stade de France, we played in one system for a while, no matter what happened, (then) we decided to switch and it gave us new positions and something to think about for the opponents,” Hjulmand said.
“We try to play dominant football, but against the best, we know we have to defend a little bit more than against other countries. But to be able to win, you have to be good at not only one part of the game, you have to be a more complete football team, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
After a modest playing career in Denmark’s domestic league, Hjulmand came to prominence as a coach at FC Nordsjaelland and Mainz 05 in Germany, before taking the reins of the national team in 2020.
The pragmatic approach of his predecessor Age Hareide was not to the liking of many Danish fans and Hjulmand wasted no time implementing a more expansive game.
“If you measure trust in the world, Denmark is the highest country in terms of trust in organisations, so we actually believe what people say,” Hjulmand said.
“We try to use that as an advantage in our team, so we get the best out of our players. And one thing I think our players are very good at is adapting and understanding tactical moves and the broader picture.”
The trust the Danish players had in Hjulmand only increased as he picked up the pieces following Eriksen’s heart attack to lead them to the Euro 2020 semi-finals where they lost to England after extra time.
The Danes, who famously won Euro 92 as a late replacement for the former Yugoslavia, will open their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on November 22 before taking on France and Australia, and the 50-year-old coach is relishing the challenge.
“I’m very fortunate to work with this group of players because I have a lot of ideas, and when I present something for them, they just throw themselves into it,” he said