Soccer-Danes dream of a new '92 under inspired Hjulmand

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FILE PHOTO: Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group D - Republic of Ireland v Denmark
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By Philip O'Connor

(Reuters) - Every time the European Championship comes around, the same question is asked: Can Denmark repeat their 1992 success when they were called in as late replacements for Yugoslavia and shocked the soccer world by winning the tournament in Sweden?

"It's a great inspiration, and when Greece won it a couple of years later (2004) it showed that, even for small countries, it's possible," Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand told Reuters.

"That (1992) team keeps the dreams alive, and we think it's actually possible to do great stuff, so it's a huge inspiration for us," he added.

Back then there were only eight teams in a cut-throat competition in which every mistake was punished, and the new format with more teams, now 24, and more ways to make it out of the group will benefit Kasper Hjulmand's side.

He was due to take over from Age Hareide after the finals, but the postponement of Euro 2020 for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic sees him in the hot seat.

Denmark take on Finland on June 12, Belgium five days later and Russia on June 21 in Group B all in Copenhagen.

"I think Age has done a great job with the team, and I think there's a fantastic foundation... we want to develop the game and develop our style of play to do more and more things," Hjulmand explained.

The key to Denmark's success will be the performances of three senior players who make up the backbone of the team - goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, centre-back Simon Kjaer and playmaker Christian Eriksen.

Schmeichel is coming off a successful season that saw his Leicester City side win the FA Cup thanks in no small part to two world-class saves from the Dane as they defended a slender 1-0 lead against Chelsea in the final.

In front of him, the 32-year-old Kjaer has carved out a role as a tough defender in a career that has taken him to a slew of European clubs in Italy, where he now plays for AC Milan, France, Turkey and Spain.

The creative burden will once again fall on the shoulders of Christian Eriksen, who has recaptured his form after a slow start at Inter Milan, helping them win the Scudetto.

The former Tottenham Hotspur player struggled to adapt to playing in Italy after joining Inter in January 2020 but he got his head down and worked hard to break into the demanding Antonio Conte's team towards the end of the season.

What is not in doubt is Eriksen's ability to pick a pass, and his sweet strikes in dead-ball situations have been invaluable to Denmark since he made his international debut against Austria in March 2010.

With exciting attackers such as Mikkel Damsgaard, Andreas Skov Olsen and Robert Skov providing width and proven strikers in Yussuf Poulsen and Jonas Wind, the Danes will have a more attacking feel than under Hareide.

Can they stage a repeat of 1992? It might be a long shot, but that won't stop Danes from dreaming.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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