Kasper Schmeichel has owned up to a “difficult week” for Danish football that almost saw Denmark field a team of part-time players against Wales in the UEFA Nations League.
Denmark fielded lower league and futsal players in the 3-0 friendly defeat to Slovakia on Wednesday following a dispute over the players’ commercial rights.
The row was eventually settled on Thursday, allowing Denmark to recall the likes of Leicester goalkeeper Schmeichel and Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen for Sunday’s game against Wales in Aarhus.
“I think for us it’s about winning the game and playing well,” Schmeichel said at Denmark’s pre-match press conference.
“I am sure everyone will get behind us. It’s been a difficult week, but that’s life.
“It’s just about getting on with it now and we will be ready.”
The Danish trio presented at the pre-match press conference – manager Age Hareide, captain Simon Kjaer and Schmeichel – were reluctant to talk about the affair which had turned Denmark into the laughing stock of international football.
But Hareide said the episode meant his squad, which reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia and are ranked ninth by FIFA, had been limited to only two training sessions before the Wales game.
“It is a little less than we normally have, but it’s OK,” Hareide said.
“There are players here who have been here for two years, so I am not too worried about that.
“All the players are fit and experienced. There are no worries about that. No excuses.”
Wales have had their own problems before the game after thrashing the Republic of Ireland 4-1 in their Nations League opener.
Ryan Giggs’ squad were delayed from leaving Cardiff Airport because of a technical fault with their plane and were not due to arrive in Aarhus until the early hours of Sunday morning.
But Schmeichel admits he has been impressed by Wales under new boss Giggs, a former Manchester United team-mate of his father Peter.
“Look at the last game and you can see the flair and spark that they play with,” he said.
“It’s very similar to the DNA he inherited at Manchester United and it will be very interesting to see what he can bring.
“He’s got a very talented squad with Wales. It is something that Gary Speed started, Chris Coleman worked really well, and now Ryan is putting his own stamp on it.
“Gareth Bale is obviously a world class player, but it would be disrespectful to focus on just him because Wales is full of very good players.”
Gareth Southgate is proud of England’s progress but now the focus returns to development as his World Cup heroes look to build on their Russian adventure.
Spain kick off the next cycle in Saturday’s UEFA Nations League opener at Wembley, the Three Lions’s first game since their memorable summer run to the semi-finals.
Harry Kane will be presented with the Golden Boot as a sell-out crowd show their appreciation to the England squad, but Southgate knows they cannot bask for long in the World Cup afterglow.
The 48-year-old points to the fact there are just 20 matches and 10 camps before Euro 2020 and reiterated his side are far from the finish product.
“It’s about development as a team, back to improvement,” Southgate said.
“Over the summer you’re looking for results – now it’s about improving as a team, developing the way we play. Improving the tactical detail of the way we play and testing ourselves over the next few months, in particular, against some really top teams.
“The summer was brilliant and it’s great that we have a full house and that everybody will feel the appreciation and that we can step out in front of our fans again. But for us now the summer is finished and it’s about the next step and the next challenges.
“Sport doesn’t stand still for anybody. You’ve got to move forward, continually evolve, increase that competition.
“I know the players are of the same mentality, they’re all of an age where what’s next is the most important thing.”
This group have already achieved a lot, from ending England’s major tournament knockout hoodoo to reaching the last four and finally triumphing in a penalty shoot-out.
Saturday’s clash with Spain offers the chance to get another monkey off their back by beating a top side in a competitive match.
“I think we want to test ourselves against the very best,” Southgate said ahead of the Group A4 encounter.
“The last 18 months we chose to play Brazil, Germany, Spain, Italy, so we weren’t hiding from those fixtures.
“If you look back through history, England’s competitive record against top teams is non-existent. I think bar Argentina in 2002, who were a big disappointment in that tournament anyway, it’s very rare since the late 60s or early 1970s that we beat those top teams.
“So, this isn’t just this team, historically it’s not impressive. Ideally over the next couple of years we’d like to be going into European Championship with a record of beating top teams, so that you go in with that real belief and confidence.”
England missed an opportunity to end that wait in the third-place play-off against Belgium, while the semi-final loss to Croatia has not been brushed under the carpet.
“We reviewed it as we do most games, really,” Southgate said of the Moscow semi-final.
“Spain is a slightly different tactical test. They have outstanding midfield players in the same way Croatia did, but not the identical test that we faced. And, of course, we don’t 100 per cent know how they’re going approach the game with the new coach (Luis Enrique).”
Southgate says he will largely name the same side that started against Croatia on Saturday, with Luke Shaw pushing to come in for the overlooked Ashley
Young as Raheem Sterling’s injury withdrawal opens up an attacking role.
But the first name on the team sheet is likely be Kane, who joined Southgate in the pre-match press conference and will wear a pair of gold boots against Spain.
“I think if I look at other international managers, they would love to be in the position I am in to be able to pick him,” Southgate said of his skipper.
“I’ve sat with a few at matches over the last couple of months and they’ve told me exactly that.
“The great thing is Harry is 24, so to have reached the level he has already and with time on his side is really exciting.”
The Sport360 team are here bringing you our top stories on Friday.
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Wales boss Ryan Giggs singled out Gareth Bale for praise after his players crushed Nations League opponents the Republic of Ireland.
Tom Lawrence, Bale – with his 30th goal for Wales – Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts were on target before Republic substitute Shaun Williams provided some cheer for the visitors in a 4-1 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium.
Giggs was enthused about a trademark box office display from Bale ahead of what is now likely to be an appointment with a full-strength Denmark in Aarhus on Sunday after a dispute about players’ commercial rights was resolved.
Root, who took over as England captain from Cook last year, spoke of his sadness when the all-time national record runscorer took him aside last week to explain his 161st Test will be his last.
England subsequently sealed the Specsavers series with a 60-run success to go 3-1 up with one to play, and Root is hoping the stage is set for both Cook and his team to deliver the perfect send-off.
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