Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said Friday he hoped the strong links between Ajax and Danish football would give his team an extra advantage against Wales in their Euro 2020 last 16 tie in Amsterdam.
The Danes managed to qualify for the knockout phase, overcoming the trauma of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during their opening game against Finland to develop into the tournament’s feel-good story.
“We’re here at the Johan Cruyff Arena and if there’s a club that means something for Danish football and has meant something for Denmark, it’s Ajax,” Hjulmand said ahead of Saturday’s game.
Three players in the current Denmark squad have honed their craft with the Dutch giants, most notably Eriksen who joined as a 16-year-old in 2008 before leaving for Tottenham Hotspur five years later.
“They’ve been developing and improving Danish players so of course there is a huge connection between Ajax and Denmark.
“The philosophy they have behind football is something I respect a lot.”
“We can feel a lot of support. We know a lot of people have come to Amsterdam to support us, and all that support and love we received is something we will try and channel into a good performance,” he added.
Wales defied expectations to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016, but Denmark won both of their Nations League meetings three years ago.
“I respect Wales and what they’ve done during the last years is really good. They remind us about ourselves, proud to represent their country, and everyone supports them,” said Hjulmand.
“It’s what I consider an equal game tomorrow. Wales have a lot of qualities but so do we.
“We have a very strong team and we can play anyone. No matter who we play we believe we can win.”
Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will go up against his Leicester City understudy Danny Ward, preferred to Wayne Hennessey by Wales coach Robert Page despite making just five appearances for his club last season.
“I can just say that he’s an amazing goalkeeper and he has all the qualities required for a good goalkeeper. We have great competition and a great relationship with each other,” said Schmeichel.
At 34, Schmeichel is the elder statesman in the Danish team. An unused member of the Euro 2012 squad, he is now the clear first choice for his country and offered up some advice for his younger team-mates.
“You never know when you’ll get a chance like this,” he said. “You’re never guaranteed to be in a game like the one we’re playing tomorrow.
“You always dream about playing a big game when you’re young, so they should just go out and enjoy them.”