Hjulmand stung by Sterling penalty call
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As Denmark’s Euro 2020 run comes to an end at the hands of England, coach Kasper Hjulmand admits that the manner of his side’s semi-final defeat does rankle a little.
In Wednesday night’s Wembley clash, a fiercely struck Mikkel Damsgard free-kick from the fringes of the penalty area fired the Danes into the ascendency midway through the first half. Kasper Schmeichel produced a fine reaction block to deny Raheem Sterling an instant equaliser, though the Leicester stopper was powerless to prevent captain Simon Kjaer powering a Bukayo Saka cross into his own net, minutes later.
With honours even after 90 minutes, Hjulmand’s charges holding on amid continued England pressure, the extra period was required – and it was there that the Danes’ resistance would be broken.
Intricate footwork from Sterling brought the Manchester City winger into the Danish area, with a challenge from Joakim Maehle sending the England man to ground.
On-field official Danny Makkelie adjudged the light contact from the Atalanta defender to be sufficient grounds for a penalty kick.
The call was upheld by the Video Assistant Referee, stoking the ire of the Danish contingent, particularly when Harry Kane converted the rebound following Schmeichel’s initial diving save.
The Tottenham forward’s fourth goal of the Euro 2020 campaign proved the clincher, as England progress to meet Italy on Sunday in their first major final appearance in 55 years. Denmark, unable to replicate the exploits of their Class of ’92 – shock winners of that year’s European Championships following their entry as late replacements – bow out with heads held high.
But in the wake of the last-four encounter, Hjulmand conceded he felt a tinge of bitterness regarding the decisive, divisive winner.
“It was a penalty which should not have been a penalty,” said the former Mainz coach. “It is something which annoys me right now. We are very disappointed.”
The team of match officials pondered the tackle on Sterling at length, but a factor that seemed to escape further analysis was the presence of a second match ball, several yards inside the field of play and in the vicinity of Sterling’s jinking path into the box.
In the event of an unwanted ball entering the pitch while the action is ongoing, the Laws of the Game stipulate that referees must bring proceedings to a halt ‘only if (the ball) interferes with play’, although no action is required if no interference occurs.
Hjulmand, however, for whom the second ball “has so much influence on the game,” remains aggrieved.
“It’s a bitter way to leave the tournament. The way we lost makes it harder to understand why we lost.”
Though their path through this year’s tournament ended ultimately in defeat, parallels can be drawn between Denmark’s Euro 2020 jaunt and their previous success in the competition. Having lost their first two games in the group stage, the Danes fought their way through to the latter stages against all odds, unbroken by the emotional toll of Christian Eriksen’s collapse in their opener.
“I can’t describe how much I admire the technical staff behind these players; they have been through so much,” said the Danish head coach.
“We have been fighting like crazy and played good football.”
“I am grateful for Denmark, the entire nation.”
Hjulmand’s side currently sit atop their qualification group for next year’s World Cup, with three wins from three. Their campaign resumes on September 1 – fittingly at Parken Stadium, the scene of their great show of resilience – against Scotland.