This was exactly the kind of party Denmark had mapped out. On an Amsterdam evening when the locals turned out to send their love to Christian Eriksen, another former Ajax prodigy propelled Denmark into the quarter-finals of the European Championship.
Twenty-nine years to the day since Denmark won Euro 92 Kasper Dolberg scored twice, the first a delicious effort from outside the box, to help dispatch Wales with relative ease before Joakim Mæhle and Martin Braithwaite sealed victory late on.
There was always going to be enough room for only one rousing tale to continue. “Guld for Eriksen,” were the words emblazoned on one Denmark flag draped over the top tier of this stadium and everywhere you looked there were banners in support of the midfielder.
Kasper Hjulmand clutched Dolberg’s face with joy as the striker left the pitch to a hero’s ovation and when Mæhle scored the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, could not hide her delight.
Wales were stunned when Harry Wilson was surprisingly sent off as stoppage time loomed but by that point the game was well gone.
For the third time in 10 days, Wales faced the challenge of unpicking a team backed by a partisan crowd. There had already been Turkey in Baku and Italy in Rome but this was arguably the toughest task of them all given the magnitude of the match.
About 5,000 Denmark supporters were expected in Amsterdam but that number alone seemed to gather in Rembrandtplein, one of the city’s main squares, before lunchtime.
Denmark fans were granted a 12-hour window into the Netherlands and many boarded buses from Copenhagen late on Friday night, which then waited at the German border, in order to meet restrictions.
Denmark supporters have fallen back in love with their team once more, stirred by Eriksen’s collapse at Parken a fortnight ago, and how it showed. Fans with face paint, Viking horns and jester hats made sure they were heard and before kick-off a giant replica shirt bearing Eriksen’s name and No 10 was unfurled on the pitch to rapturous applause. Gareth Bale presented the Denmark captain, Simon Kjær, with a framed Eriksen Wales shirt that read “Brysia wella” – get well soon.
As the words to Re-Sepp-Ten appeared on the big screens above each goal, Denmark’s supporters performed a heart-warming rendition.
The scenes after Dolberg’s strike were less refined, with beer spilling down the terraces as fans allowed themselves to drink in a beautiful strike. The move started on halfway, when Mæhle fizzed a pass into the feet of Mikkel Damsgaard, an exuberant 20-year-old midfielder. Damsgaard spiralled clear of Aaron Ramsey, prodded the ball into the path of Dolberg and the blond forward did the rest. He took the pass in his stride on his right foot, took a touch, then another to steady himself and sent a curling shot into the far corner.
The galling thing for Wales was that they had started so brightly, with Bale particularly bubbly on the right. He was drifting into roomy pockets, trying his luck and seemingly in the mood. He sent a couple of shots wide, with one swerving dangerously past Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.
But after Dolberg’s strike everything seemed to go wrong for Wales. First, Connor Roberts was forced off through injury on his 64th appearance of a marathon season and then Kieffer Moore picked up a booking, ruling him out of the quarter-finals if Wales were to advance.
Wales were fortunate to go in at the interval trailing by one goal. Not long after Dolberg’s opener, some slack defending presented Damsgaard with an inviting opportunity to dance in off the byline without a red shirt anywhere near him. He drilled a teasing low cross into the six-yard box and Dolberg nonchalantly flicked the ball at goal with the outside of his left boot. The Wales goalkeeper, Danny Ward, not for the first time this tournament, made an instinctive right-hand save to keep his team in it.
But three minutes into the second half Wales’s adventure was as good as over. Braithwaite, hugging the touchline, chested a lofted ball and then easily bypassed Joe Rodon before sliding a wonderful ball across the six-yard box. None of his Denmark teammates could keep pace so the ball instead fell at the feet of the Wales substitute Neco Williams, seemingly in little danger. But the full-back, on in place of Roberts, panicked and hacked a poor clearance straight to Dolberg, who gobbled up the chance.
The substitute Mathias Jensen, of Brentford, went close with an audacious strike from an angle and then came another chorus of “Oles” with 20 minutes to play. Denmark withdrew Thomas Delaney and the dainty Damsgaard on the hour mark, presumably with one eye on their quarter-final in Azerbaijan next Saturday, but went for the jugular. Mæhle rattled in and, after a VAR check for offside, Braithwaite’s cool finish was awarded.