Wales suffered a sobering Nations League defeat in Denmark as Christian Eriksen’s two goals inspired the hosts to victory.
The Danes were back at full strength after their senior players boycotted Wednesday’s 3-0 friendly defeat in Slovakia over a commercial rights dispute, and it was one of their returning stars, Eriksen, who gave them the lead with a low finish in the first half.
The Tottenham midfielder scored his second after the break with a confidently struck penalty, awarded after Ethan Ampadu was judged to have handled a cross from Viktor Fischer.
Wales, who were competitive for long periods of the game, felt the decision was harsh, but Denmark’s efficient display was ultimately enough to give them a winning start to their Nations League campaign.
Wales’ dose of reality
For a young and developing Wales side, this was a dose of reality after the 4-1 thrashing of the Republic of Ireland three days earlier, in what was Ryan Giggs’ first competitive match in charge.
On that occasion, Giggs’ side crushed their opponents by displaying a swagger with which very few Welsh sides have ever played.
But whereas the Irish offered little resistance, Denmark – who reached the last 16 of the World Cup this summer – posed a far more challenging examination of Wales’ credentials.
The step up in class was most evident in midfield. Wales were in total control of that area against the Republic, with 17-year-old Ampadu man of the match and ably supported by the ever dependable Joe Allen.
Against Denmark, however, they were faced with a world-class playmaker in Eriksen and, although Wales’ holding midfielders would surely have been told beforehand to mark him closely, the Spurs player was allowed to wander unopposed into the penalty area and score with a low shot in off the post.
It was a harsh lesson for Wales’ young players, who were not allowed to play with any fluency by a disciplined and organised Danish side.
They learned too how unforgiving international football can be, as Ampadu discovered when he penalised for a handball, as Fischer’s cross struck him from just a couple of yards away.
As Giggs has alluded to, however, this promising Wales side is a work in progress and, after a blistering start in Cardiff, his young players will have learned a great deal from this defeat.
Eriksen shines after chaotic build-up
Denmark had endured a chaotic build-up to this fixture, amid the dispute between the Danish football association and its players over commercial rights.
Forced to field a semi-professional side, the Danes lost 3-0 in Slovakia on Wednesday but with the players and FA agreeing to talks over the issue, the senior men – including Eriksen and Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel – returned for the visit of Wales.
There was a sense of inevitability that Eriksen would prove the hosts’ inspiration, as his two strikes meant he has now been directly involved in 20 goals in his past 18 appearances for Denmark, scoring 15 times and providing five assists.
Eriksen’s influence on the game was only fleeting but his decisive contributions summed up the Danish performance: efficient rather than spectacular, and clinical.