On a sultry evening in Milton Keynes, Finland’s hopes to progress past the group stages of the Women’s European Championship were quashed by Denmark who struck in the 72nd minute via a close-range header from Chelsea’s Pernille Harder.
The result means that theoretically Lars Søndergaard’s Danes can still make it to the quarter-finals although they will probably need to avoid defeat against Spain in their final group game on Saturday.
Both teams began the game with attacking intent, buoyed by the charged atmosphere created by a crowd of 11,615.
Denmark channelled that energy into an empowered offensive performance, in stark comparison to their opening game of the tournament, Friday’s passive 4-0 loss to Germany.
That defeat featured a defensive trio of Rikke Sevecke, Stine Pedersen, and Katrine Veje. Despite their unfavourable contributions on Friday, all three were trusted to start again here.
It proved to be a wise tactical decision on Søndergaard’s part; Sevecke and her fellow defenders were able to successfully manage Finland’s forays forward, breaking up possession and recycling quickly to transition into counterattacks.
Harder led the charge, probing stealthily on the left flank, as well as trying her hand from more central positions. The defensive strategy was to combat her tricks by cutting off any and all spaces for the forward to drive into.
Yet, where Harder may have been occupied, both Signe Bruun and Nadia Nadim took matters into their own hands, and it was through the pair that Denmark had their first shot on target after nine minutes.
As the game progressed, it became increasingly clear that any of Denmark’s attacking triumvirate could open the scoring. Were it not for another hatful of saves from Finland’s Tinja-Riika Korpela – the keeper who amassed the most number of saves in the opening fixture of the Euros (nine) – then it might have happened a lot sooner than it did.
Indeed, it took until 18 minutes from time, several changes from both teams, and persistent pressure directed toward Finland’s defence for Denmark to get the goal they desperately needed in a must-win game.
A looping cross found substitute Karen Holmgaard in the box. Her header clattered off the crossbar and Harder swooped in to head home her 69th goal in 136 appearances.
For all of Denmark’s dominance with possession and clear-cut chances, it had taken bit of luck in the latter stages of the game to break Finland’s regimented back four. It so nearly wasn’t enough. In injury time Jenny Danielsson twisted clear and her shot was rising towards the top corner only for Lene Christensen to produce a superb save to tip it over the crossbar.
Moments before, Harder had been substituted after a collision with Emma Kolvisto, and left the field holding an ice pack to her head. She returned to celebrate victory with her teammates, and collect the player of the match award.