Promotion and a place in the play-offs for UEFA Euro 2020 proved to be one step too far for Ryan Giggs’ young Welsh side. Defeat against Denmark in Cardiff means that Wales will remain in League B, but will still have a favourable seeding for the European Championships qualification campaign beginning in March.
On a tense evening, where the result mattered for both Wales and Denmark, Giggs opted for an adventurous, attack-minded side. There were chances for the hosts to take the lead but their defensive vulnerability was exposed by the Danes’ clinical finishing. Such important matches will only enhance Giggs’ burgeoning tenure in the Wales hot-seat; losing for a young manager – especially, having been such a successful player – is not necessarily all bad.
Denmark were savvy and clinical
It was the ruthlessness of Denmark that was clear from early on. Nicolai Jorgensen delivered the first blow, expertly finishing off a sweeping move that saw Denmark go from one end of the pitch to the other in the double-quick speed, before Martin Braithwaite volleyed in the second two minutes from time.
There was late drama as Gareth Bale pulled a goal back within seconds of Braithwaite’s strike but it was too little too late. Wales in truth struggled against their savvy opponents. Following a fine rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Cardiff City stadium felt rather flat; not aided entirely by their side’s performance. It was in stark contrast to the exhilarating victory against the Republic of Ireland a few months ago; that was thrilling, this was tense.
In such finely-balanced encounters, the quality of Bale and Aaron Ramsey is required by a Wales side featuring a number of young but talented players. Both were quiet as Denmark held on to secure the victory that guarantees top spot in their group, once again proving that under Age Hareide they are such awkward opponents to break down, even without captain and centre-back Simon Kjaer.
Adventurous Wales selection
Giggs’ starting selection was telling of their ambition, the onus was on Wales and for long periods in the first half they carried the greater threat.
David Brooks, drifting in from the flanks, was the host’s star performer; once again showing what a talented player Wales and Bournemouth have on their hands. It was Brooks who provided the cross that should have seen Wales take the lead; towering above Lasse Schone, James Chester appeared nailed on to score but his header from six yards out travelled past the post.
Wales seemingly had the momentum with Bale going close moments earlier with a curling shot that Kasper Schmeichel pawed behind. Denmark, however, were given too much space around the Wales penalty area and the visitors began to eke their way back into the match. It was clear that neither side wanted to put a foot wrong and concede a costly goal; a period where the two teams cancelled each other out ensued.
Wales were favouring playing on the counter as Brooks and Joe Allen unleashed the pacey players in front of them. Allen laid the ball back to Connor Roberts following a neat passage of play, the Swansea City full-back’s inviting cross was met by Bale at the far post but Henrik Dalsgaard managed to do just enough to deflect the ball behind.
Chances for Wales, but goals for Denmark
The chances were falling the way of Wales, as Denmark created very little during the opening half. Christian Eriksen drilled one left-footed shot over the crossbar, just to keep Wayne Hennessey on his toes, but there was the sense that the Danes could go through the gears. With three minutes of the first half remaining, so it proved as Denmark conjured up a quick, slick counter to go in at half time with the lead.
It started from just outside their own area when Yussuf Poulsen seized on the loose ball and fed it into the feet of Jorgenson. Thomas Delaney was perfectly placed to receive the striker’s lay-off and cleverly picked out Poulsen’s run on the right.
The RB Leipzig striker’s next pass was the killer ball that split the Welsh back-line and exposed Chester’s lack of pace. Jorgenson sprinted in behind and calmly slid the ball under the advancing Hennessey. Their first effort on target had broken the deadlock.
There was a growing sense that Wales were letting this go too easily. The crowd urged their side to up the tempo, but finding a way past this compact and tight Danish side is not an easy task. Chris Gunter came off the bench to win his 92nd cap and draw level with Neville Southall’s record. The substitute’s cross towards Tyler Roberts was wasted by the young Leeds United attacker as he headed off target.
It seemed that Denmark were edging towards an important victory, and in the 88th minute, Braithwaite scored the second that put it to bed.
A sharp turn and a thumping, rising shot into the top corner was too much for the tired Welsh defence to deal with. Bale, who had seen a superb free-kick clawed behind by Schmeichel before that second Denmark goal, did manage to half the deficit, but Wales had to settle for second best both in this match and the group.