Mikkel Damsgaard comes of age with outstanding Euro 2020 showing
By Ross Jackson
Heading into Euro 2020, few people gave Mikkel Damsgaard much hope of being afforded anything more than brief cameo roles from the bench.
Denmark head coach Kasper Hjulmand is a man who seems to favour experience over wildcard youth options, though the awful incident involving talisman Christian Eriksen in their opening game against Finland saw the Danish boss hand Damsgaard his chance.
The 21-year-old's first outing at a major tournament came against the number one-ranked team in the world Belgium on matchday two (no pressure) and you'd have forgiven him for taking a little time to find his feet as he settled into the occasion - he needed no such luxury,
Damsgaard was the brightest of the Denmark frontline throughout the contest, with a brief moment of magic as he skipped away from two Belgium defenders before curling a shot inches wide of Thibaut Courtois' far post almost enough to snatch his side a point.
If his inclusion against Roberto Martinez's side was seen as a gamble by Hjulmand, his Euro 2020 debut was enough to see him become a regular for the remainder of the campaign.
Matchday three represented a watershed moment for the forward as he etched his name into footballing history by becoming the first player born after the year 2000 to score at a European Championship finals.
Damsgaard's finish against Russia typified everything we've come to expect from him as he collected the ball on the half-turn before creating a yard of space to curl a sumptuous effort into Matvei Safonov's top corner.
The first-half strike set the tone for his side in a game they couldn't afford to lose, and setting the tone for the rest of his teammates was something Damsgaard did all tournament - from high-octane pressing to individual pieces of brilliance on the ball, he spent the whole of Euro 2020 leading the way for his senior teammates to follow.
As the Danes headed into the knockout stages of Euro 2020, no longer were they turning to the likes of Barcelona forward Martin Braithwaite for inspiration, instead it was their wonderkid who would be pulling the strings.
The Sampdoria man proved too hot to handle for Wales as Denmark brushed aside the challenge of Rob Page's gallant side. Damsgaard completed the most take ons, the most chances and grabbed himself an assist in the opening 45 minutes as Denmark hit the front, before Hjulmand withdrew his man and wrapped him up in cotton wool with the game effectively over.
The 21-year-old's confidence continued to grow and grow as the tournament reached the latter stages, and following a stellar showing in his side's quarter-final triumph over the Czech Republic,
Damsgaard would be faced with his biggest challenge of all against England.
Once again he proved to be the livewire in the Danish pack, with the Three Lions' solid backline simply unable to cope with his movement and energy.
If his goal against Russia was special then his opener in the semi-final arguably topped it, showing the technique, and perhaps more impressively the confidence, to fire a brilliant free-kick with the instep of his boot past the flailing Jordan Pickford from all of 25 yards.
Damsgaard was withdrawn midway through the second-half of Denmark's semi-final as Hjulmand looked to shore up the midfield, though having gone 2-1 down it was clear the Danes missed the youngster's guile and spark around the edge of the area.
Denmark may not have made it to the final of Euro 2020 but in Mikkel Damsgaard they've got themselves an absolute gem who can go on to become his county's talisman for years to come.