Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Euro Champ Qualifying clash between Denmark and Finland, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
The top two nations from the group of six – which includes Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland and San Marino alongside Denmark and Finland – automatically qualify for the continental footballing jamboree in Germany.
Denmark (deemed to be 18th in the world) and Finland (56th) are the two highest-ranked nations in their qualification group based on FIFA’s rating system.
These northern European rivals will meet at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen to begin their Euro 2024 qualification campaign for the first time since the pair faced off in their opening group game of Euro 2020.
Finland’s Joel Pohjanpalo scored the only goal of the game on the hour mark, but that June day will forever be remembered for Christian Eriksen‘s cardiac arrest during the first half when he “died for five minutes”, according to the player himself, before receiving life-saving treatment on the pitch.
Eriksen’s recovery across the subsequent 18 months has been so inspiring it earned him a nomination for the Laureus World Sports Awards; the Manchester United midfielder played every minute of the World Cup group stage but could not inspire his nation to a single victory as Denmark were held to a goalless draw by Tunisia before losing to both France and Australia, scoring just one goal all winter.
Manager Kasper Hjulmand, consumed by the moral conflict of the World Cup being hosted in Qatar given the human rights controversy surrounding the tournament, openly admitted: “In Denmark, we have this slogan called ‘part of something bigger’, and right now I am not sure if I am part of something that I like.”
However, the 50-year-old coach has maintained his post and is aiming to improve upon the semi-final position he led his country to during Euro 2020, losing to England after extra time.
Finland may have beaten Denmark in the previous continental tournament, but the Eagle-owls did not advance beyond the group stage, losing out to the Danes by virtue of an inferior head-to-head goal difference.
Euro 2020 was the first men’s major tournament that Finland had ever qualified for but Markku Kanerva could not steer his nation to the winter World Cup, finishing third in their qualification group behind France and Ukraine.
Since those World Cup qualifiers, Finland have only won two of their last 13 matches across all competitions – both against Montenegro, a nation ranked 69th in the world, sitting between Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.
Despite their close proximity, Denmark and Finland have met just five times this century, with each team claiming a pair of victories and one draw shared – the countries have not competed in qualifying for a major international tournament since the build-up to the 1988 Euros, when the Danes won both matches by the same 1-0 scoreline.
Denmark form (all competitions):
Finland form (all competitions):
Trabzonspor’s Jens Stryger Larsen – a stalwart of the Danish national team with 49 caps – could take his tally to half a century after being named as the replacement for Leicester City’s injured left-back Victor Kristiansen.
Rasmus Kristensen was another late addition to the squad, ushered into the setup five days after the initial roster was announced and just 24 hours after coming off the bench to score in Leeds United’s 4-2 Premier League victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend.
Denmark’s talismanic playmaker Eriksen was not included in the squad while he continues to make his way back from an ankle ligament injury, but Erik ten Hag revealed that the Manchester United midfielder may return for his club in April.
The Finnish squad have been in Copenhagen since Sunday, with the entire roster expected to be available for Thursday’s qualifier.
There have been doubts over the availability of the versatile Fredrik Jensen, as the Augsburg midfielder has been nursing a heel problem this month, but he made the bench for the club’s 1-1 draw with Schalke 04 last weekend.
Denmark possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Andersen, Kjaer, Christensen; Kristensen, Hojbjerg, Norgaard, Maehle; Lindstrom, Damsgaard; Hojlund
Finland possible starting lineup:
Hradecky; Jensen, Hoskonen, Ivanov; Soiri, Maenpaa, Kamara, Suhonen, Niskanen; Pukki, Pohjanpalo
We say: Denmark 2-0 Finland
Denmark may have faltered in Qatar, but Hjulmand has forged this side into a stubborn foe on home soil; since Euro 2020, the Danes have conceded two goals in their last nine games in front of their own fans.
Finland are hardly prolific at the best of times and the nation’s all-time top scorer, Teemu Pukki, comes into the contest without a goal for club or country since January – giving Denmark the edge in this qualification opener.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.