Denmark reached the last 16 of Euro 2020 in stunning fashion, smashing four goals past Russia in Copenhagen to finish second in Group B with a 4-1 win. Belgium, who took three wins from three games, finished first.
Qualification for the knockout stages was the last thing on Danish minds nine days ago when talismanic playmaker Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during their opening game against Finland, a match they lost 1-0 before falling to defeat against Belgium in their second game. However with or without Eriksen, Kasper Hjullmand's side had shown an ability to create plenty of shooting opportunities for themselves, leading the competition after two rounds of games with 42 efforts on goal. If their shooting was rather wayward earlier in the tournament it was anything but that against a Russia side whose gameplan fell apart once their attempts to hold out for a 0-0 draw collapsed.
Meanwhile tournament debutants Finland remain in the mix for a spot in the round of 16 though they will be lucky to scrape through after their 2-0 loss to Belgium. They have three points to their name, one goal scored and a goal difference of minus two, an inferior record to fellow third-placed sides Ukraine and Switzerland with three groups left to complete their fixtures.
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Early on in Copenhagen Russia seemed determined to keep things conservative as they looked for the point that would take them through. Though they saw little of the ball they had the best of the chances early in the contest, Aleksandr Golovin's sliding run through midfield caused panic in the Danish defense but Kasper Schmeichel saved well with his feet whilst soon after Artem Dzyuba could not direct a Mario Fernandes cross on goal.
The hosts dominated possession but were largely limited to pot shots from a compact Russian defense, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg flashing one such effort wide. Such long-range efforts can sometimes pay off, however. Mikkel Damsgaard curled a superb strike beyond Matvei Safonov from 30 yards out.
A Parken Stadium crowd that had had precious little to celebrate from its first two games erupted into pandemonium as the 20-year-old became his nation's youngest ever scorer at a European Championships.
Meanwhile in Saint Petersburg, Finland's task seemed to be all the tougher with Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard named in a strong starting XI by Roberto Martinez yet the Finnish defense just about held firm against wave upon wave of pressure. Young winger Jeremy Doku drew a smart right-handed save from Lukas Hradecky whilst Lukaku flicked a header straight at the goalkeeper.
A one-goal winning margin may not have been enough for Denmark to qualify from third place, placing them below Switzerland and Ukraine on goals scored with three groups left to play, and they did not slow in their pursuit of a greater lead in the second half. Kasper Hjulmand's side pressed effectively, pinning their visitors back in their half and forcing mistakes.
When the second goal came it was gift-wrapped by Fedor Kudryashov, whose nervy pass back to Safonov instead rolled straight to Yussuf Poulsen, who rolled the ball into the net before the Russian goalkeeper could get back. Soon after Parken Stadium erupted at the most innocuous of moments, news filtering through that Romelu Lukaku had finally ended Hradecky's defiant stand. However as VAR was ruling out Lukaku's goal for an offside, Denmark's task became all the harder, Jannik Vestergaard bringing substitute Aleksandr Sobolev down in the box.
Dzyuba's hit his penalty cleanly down the middle but whilst the home crowd were briefly deflated the Danes did not look for a moment like they would falter in their pursuit of goals, one aided when Finland's resistance was finally broken as a Thomas Vermaelen header deflected in off Hradecky.
A brilliant double save from Safonov in the 79th minute but the ball sat up favorably for Andreas Christensen to thunder a long range effort into the net. Moments later Joakim Maehle hit the fourth on the counter attack, both scorers sprinting to the cameras to show a 1 and 0 in tribute to Eriksen. Lukaku's third of the tournament in Saint Petersburg meant that what might have been a tense finale in Copenhagen was instead one of delirium.