Denmark edge through as runners-up but Serbia exit after tame draw

<span>Pierre-Emile Højbjerg reacts after Joachim Anderson’s own goal is disallowed for offside.</span><span>Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg reacts after Joachim Anderson’s own goal is disallowed for offside.Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Any thesis on why 24 teams should never have been permitted in the European Championship finals must feature this game.

On a stiflingly hot evening in Bavaria, Denmark and Serbia did absolutely nothing to prove the expansion of this tournament has enhanced entertainment levels. The occasion was notable for Christian Eriksen winning his 133rd cap, a record for a male Danish player, and … that was about it.

Related: Denmark v Serbia: Euro 2024 – live

Serbia threatened to withdraw from the European Championship last week. Two games later, they have exited anyway. This will be met with general shrugs. Denmark and Eriksen have prolonged their stay.

It was impossible to watch the Danes here – functional, physical, little nuance – and foresee them making impact beyond the last 16. ­Denmark will argue that it was ­Serbia who needed to win but there was ­literally nothing from either team worth any excitement. It seemed fitting that Denmark’s runner-up ­position in Group C was secured via a ­modern‑day quirk, even more so that neither Uefa’s representative in the post-match press conference nor the Denmark head coach, Kasper ­Hjulmand, could clarify whether this was a qualification head-to-head record or a disciplinary table. It was decided ultimately by their record in qualifying for the tournament.

Either way, Germany will be rubbing their hands at facing Hjulmand’s team. “I have a good feeling about that game,” said the coach. “When we play the big nations, we always step up.” Ten out of 10 for optimism, Kasper.


The job of the Serbs was to capitalise upon what many would say was their good fortune in ­snatching a 95th‑minute draw against Slovenia. Dragan Stojkovic, somewhat curiously, dropped Filip Mladenovic, Dusan Vlahovic and Dusan Tadic. ­Serbia do not have many better players than this trio. Even the Danish coach expressed surprise later.

A tame opening was punctured by an Eriksen snapshot from 19 yards which Predrag Rajkovic had to move smartly to turn behind. Denmark had the ball in the net from the second of two subsequent corners but Eriksen had bent the ball out of play before it reached Rasmus Højlund. Novak Djokovic, who had belted out the Serbian anthem, looked on.

What little football appeared in the opening half came from Denmark. Serbia’s game was of ­containment. Højlund tested Rajkovic with a low drive. Jonas Wind blasted a ­39th‑minute shot over the bar when composure was called for. ­Aleksandar Mitrovic, the focal point for Serbia in attack, was peripheral to the point of anonymity.

A strange scene played out pre-match, where the giant flags of the competing nations were waved directly in front of the opposition’s support rather than their own. This proved a metaphor for what was to come; the first period was messy and lacking in cohesion. The flat atmosphere reflected this. Serbia’s play was especially ragged. It was a timely humanitarian gesture that the match officials only added on one minute.

Tadic and Luka Jovic, the hero from the Slovenia game, arrived from the bench for the start of the second half, in a clear nod to the fact Serbia required impetus. This lifted the spirits of the Serbian fans if nothing else. Their previously noticeable contribution had been to toss a few beer cups roughly in the direction of Eriksen as he took a corner. It was a Danish replacement, though, who almost broke the deadlock. Andreas Skov Olsen cut in from the right but watched his drive deflected wide.

Next, an incredible thing happened; Serbia attacked with purpose. A slick move resulted in Joachim Andersen shanking the ball into his own net. The assistant referee flagged for an offside against Tadic in the build-up. A check confirmed the right call had been made on the field. Cue more flying beer cups and Tannoy messages for Serbian fans to desist. Euro 2024 will not miss this regular missile throwing. “It is not my business to talk about that,” the Serbia coach said. A Uefa fine will inevitably arrive in due course.

A defender should have sent ­Denmark into the lead, Jannik ­Vestergaard instead planting a free header right into the hands of Rajkovic. ­Serbian desperation grew into the closing stages. Their approach ­generally involved hopeful – or wayward – crosses. Mitrovic looped a tame header towards goal, shortly before flinging himself to the ground in an attempt to win a penalty. More beer cups, which Kasper Schmeichel took time to remove from his ­penalty area one by one, rained down. ­Mitrovic was booked for his vehement complaint.

A pitch invader interrupted matters having managed to run 75 yards before being hauled to the ground. It had been that kind of wholly unsatisfactory evening. And, hopefully, one never to be spoken of again.