Euro Shock: What's Propelled The Czech Republic and Denmark's Surprise Runs?
Before the tournament, if you were told that one of either the Czech Republic or Denmark would be in the Semi-Final, you’d have probably laughed and thought your interlocutor was crazy.
In the Czech's case, they were given little to no chance of advancing from their group, as many saw England and Croatia too strong, with Scotland perhaps looming as a better dark-horse bet.
As for Denmark, they were expected to run second to Belgium, and while perhaps possessing the possibility of a daring run to the quarters, expectations were pretty much capped there.
Yet, here we are with the Czechs spectacularly dumping out the Dutch, and with Denmark brushing aside Wales, we’ve got a quarter-final which will send one of these relative minnows into a Euro semi-final.
Just what’s propelled these two remarkable journeys?
The popular notion around the Czech Republic before Euro 2020 kicked off was that if they were going to get anything out of their tournament, they’d need to be super clinical upfront, due to the limited chances they’d receive.
However, no one expected the relatively unknown Patrik Schick to take the tournament by storm. The Bayer Leverkusen marksmen has scored 4 goals in 4 games, spearheading a Czech attack with ruthlessness and class.
Of course, we all know about his absurd halfway goal against Scotland, but he’s shown that whether the ball is on the ground or in the air, he’s a major threat.
Schick has continually found himself in the right position to impact games, so far sitting second to Spain's Dani Olmo where shots on target per-90 minutes are concerned.
Schick is also always looking to press the opposition, hunting down the second ball as indicated by his 25 loose ball recoveries which ranks 4th on a Czech team which actually ranks 4th overall in that stat, speaking to both a player and team who are more than prepared to roll up its sleeves.
Denmark’s team sprit
42 minutes gone in Denmark's opening group game against Finland, and the footballing world was collectively holding its breath as Danish talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch.
The situation got very serious, and very quickly, as medical personnel rushed onto the pitch and started performing CPR on the Inter Milan star. Not knowing whether their teammate was alive, the Danish players formed a human shield surrounding their friend. Arm in Arm, tears in their eyes, those Danish players immediately turned into footballing heroes. Whilst they didn't get a result that day, or even the following match, they came out and thumped Russia 4-1 in their last group game and jumped from last to second, ultimately securing an improbable place in the easier half of the knock-out draw.
An intangible team spirit and unity sprang fourth from an horrendous incident, the likes of which has driven this side to play every game as though its their last. Every tackle, every 50-50 is now fought with an extra bit of motivation as every player who puts on that shirt has an extra flag to fly every 90 minutes. This enormous feat of mental strength from a collective group of players is staggering and has driven this side to places others thought they could never reach.
A stringent Czech rearguard
The only way that Schick’s brilliance can be fully expressed is if he has a strong and effective defence behind him, and that's exactly what this Czech Republic team has.
With the likes of Vladimir Coufal, Tomas Kalas and Ondrej Celustka playing in that back 4, and with Tomas Holes and West Ham's Tomas Soucek patrolling in front, the Czech's have only conceded 2 goals all tournament.
They can stop pace in behind as seen against the Netherlands, as well as the ability to be physical as seen against Scotland. They’ve conceded the 4th least amount of Goal Creating Actions per-90 minutes, and have conceded just 9 shots all tournament which are these Euro's 5th strongest number. The Czechs have also produced the tournament's most clearances (142), Interceptions (65) and boast the 3rd most blocks (62), indicating that you're going to have to be near perfect to break down this tough-tackling, stringent defence.
Denmark's youthful exuberance
The Danes have always been a more than competent national side, especially in recent times. This has been achieved through the ability to breed new young players each tournament to get them ready for when they are needed in the big time.
So far at Euro 2020 Denmark has unleashed the likes of Kasper Dolberg, Mikkel Damsgaard and Joakim Mæhle who are all 24 year or younger and have already played such vital roles on this upstart side.
From Mæhle's brilliant 4th goal against the Russians, Dolberg's excellent brace against Wales and Damsgaard's exquisite finish to start the resurgence against Russia, the Danish youngsters have all had moments to remember.
Mæhle and Damsgaard have created the 2nd and 4th most shot creating actions for Denmark respectively with 13 and 9. This youth-centric front line, coupled with the team spirit, has created an atmosphere around this Danish team which could carry into future tournaments. And this is without mentioning 21-year old Andreas Skov Olsen, who has made only 1 appearance so far at the Euros, but who scored 16times for Denmark at youth level, and is already tearing it up for Bologna in Italy's Serie A.
This game could go either way. Presently, the Stats Insider model is giving Denmark the slight edge, assessing them as a 46.9%chance of getting the job done in 90 minutes.
The winner will likely set up a semi final match in London again England, or perhaps Ukraine should they cause a massive upset in Rome against the Three Lions.
The Euros have once again delivered a shock, while it's ironic that Denmark, the team who won it all in 1992, is pitted against the Czech Republic who somehow found their way into the Euro final four years later.
Perhaps these two have even more surprises left up their sleeve?
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