Soccer-Danes to make the most of Dutch connection against Wales, says Hjulmand

Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Denmark Training - Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam, Netherlands - June 25, 2021 Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand during training Pool via REUTERS/Koen Van Weel

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand is hoping his nation's long love affair with Dutch football in general and Ajax Amsterdam in particular will stand to them when they take on Wales in their Euro 2020 last 16 game on Saturday.

The two sides meet at the Johan Cruyff Arena where many Danes have represented Ajax over the years, including playmaker Christian Eriksen, who is recovering following a cardiac arrest against Finland in Denmark's opening game.

"If any club outside the borders has meant anything to Danish football, this (Ajax) is it. There is a very big connection between Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Denmark," Hjulmand told a news conference.

"Christian (Eriksen) left home when he was 16, and this is his second home. We also have (Kasper) Dolberg and (Nicolai) Boilesen -- there are so many players who have gotten their football upbringing here," he added.

The Danes beat Wales twice in the UEFA Nations League in 2028, but Hjulmand said that those results will count for nothing when the two sides meet again.

"It was a team that was somewhere else at the time when Denmark last met them. They were in the process of making some changes. From there, they have had three good years," Hjulmand explained.

One player who is still in the setup is Gareth Bale, who has spent the last season playing alongside Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at Tottenham Hotspur in England.

"In the last ten years, not many people have done what he has done. Scored over 100 goals for Real Madrid. He's a class player, a great guy. One of the best players I have played with," Hojbjerg told reporters.

"I wish the best for him, just not tomorrow!" he added.

Hojbjerg doesn't agree with Bale that Wales are the underdogs on Saturday, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has said that he and the Danes aren't taking anything for granted.

"If you know anything about football, you know that the next match is the most important. We are not thinking about that match after the next one," Hojbjerg said.

Hjulmand believes his side is now fully recovered from the shock of Eriksen's collapse.

"We have gotten over a traumatic experience and we know that we are warriors -- we went in there again that same evening. We played against the strongest national team (Belgium) a few days later," Hjulmand said.

"This team has shown mental strength for several years, we know that we just get stronger and stronger as time goes on," he added.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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