Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand said he is using the philosophy of legendary Dutch player and coach Johan Cruyff to inspire his side to play with freedom after a traumatic start to Euro 2020.
Hjulmand’s men take on the Czech Republic in Baku on Saturday for a place in the semi-finals, three weeks on from seeing star player Christian Eriksen collapse on the pitch after suffering a cardiac arrest during their opening match against Finland.
Denmark lost that game 1-0 after it restarted and were outgunned 2-1 by Belgian in their second match in Group B despite an excellent performance.
However, they have hit back with four goals against Russia and Wales to reach the last eight in style.
Cruyff, who died in 2016, was one of the greatest players of all-time, but his coaching legacy lives on at Barcelona, who he led to their first ever European Cup win in 1992, with Pep Guardiola one of his most famous disciples.
“I can definitely say it is an important thing in our game to play without fear,” said Hjulmand.
“One of my big inspirations Johan Cruyff said you cannot play football with fear.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think both ways, it doesn’t mean you just go forward without thinking backwards, but it means you cannot play football at your best if you are afraid, so for sure I want the players to set themselves free.
“We will do that again tomorrow. We will try to play forward and give our best for the great support and passion we’ve had from the Danish people.”
Eriksen was discharged from hospital less than a week after his collapse after having a defibrillator implanted to regulate his heart rate.
The emotional rollercoaster the Danes have been on has made them the neutrals’ favourites and Hjulmand said they are still playing for Eriksen.
“We will play with the heart of Christian Eriksen. He is the heart of the team still and with that heart and without fear, we will try.”
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s father Peter was the Danish number one when they claimed a shock title at Euro 92 despite originally not qualifying and entering the tournament at the last minute when Yugoslavia were disqualified due to an outbreak of war.
Schmeichel believes this Danish side have their own fairytale story with the continent now behind them.
“There are so many motivational factors, everything you dreamed about as a kid, everything we’ve been through as a team,” said the Leicester captain.
“We’ve talked a lot about the love the Danish national team is getting, it’s getting bigger and bigger. We could never imagine how crazy it could go.
“We don’t want to disappoint, we want to keep making our country proud. We’re not thinking about leaving anytime soon.”