While few expected the visitors to take anything from this trip, especially given the circumstances, it proved a dismaying, wounding night. Scotland can still recover in terms of their World Cup qualification prospects but one wonders about the effects on morale and confidence given two vital games now follow in such quick succession.
It’s just as well so few Scots were here to see it. A couple of Saltires were spotted in a ground otherwise decked out in red and white. Some members of the Tartan Army had made it in. But it was another long night on Scotland duty, for them as well as the players.
In this impressively compact, steep-sided arena Scotland found themselves in a bit of a tight spot. Steve Clarke’s answer to having no recognised right back in his squad was to turn to his skipper Andy Robertson, who played so far out of position he was halfway across the Oresund bridge linking Copenhagen to Sweden.
The Liverpool left back played at right wing-back to counter the loss of Nathan Patterson and Stephen O’Donnell, absent for Covid-related reasons. A captain must do his duty and all that. It seems he volunteered for the job and what a job it was – keeping Mikkel Damsgaard, one of the breakout stars of Euro 2020, quiet.
That mission didn’t go well. The Sampdoria winger slipped in Joakim Maehle to put Denmark two up after 15 minutes. The duo, so effective during Euro 2020, were rampant again. Even Scotland’s best players were being exposed. The home team opened the scoring just a minute earlier when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg slung in a cross to the back post which saw right back Daniel Wass take advantage of Kieran Tierney’s lack of awareness to head his side into the lead. It was clinical but avoidable. Worse followed moments afterwards.
Clarke was limited in what he could do to fix the obvious problems. He was able to list only six outfield players on the bench. He decided to wait until half-time to put Robertson out of his misery, though the captain must be commended for being so willing to step into the breach.
He reverted to left wing-back in the second half with Tierney dropping back in at left centre-half. Scott McKenna stayed in the dressing room and Lyndon Dykes was sent on to give Che Adams some support in attack. Ryan Fraser dropped back to take Robertson’s place at right wing-back, where many thought he might have started.
These running repairs worked to an extent. Denmark still looked streets ahead of their opponents but at least they did not look set to score every time they went forward, as had seemed the case in the opening half.
Indeed, Scotland came closest to getting a goal in this period. Billy Gilmour saw a shot slip just by the post and Fraser was too deliberate when trying to apply a finish to substitute Ryan Christie’s cutback with ten minutes left. Kasper Schmeichel tipped the Newcastle player’s effort round the post to a great roar of approval from the 34,562 crowd.
Scotland had sought to take the sting out of the tie in the early stages. Some hope. Craig Gordon, back between the sticks for his 58th cap, employed all his wiles and took his time at every kick out. Sadly, he had to put the ball back into play eventually. The Danes were merciless in their use of it. The build-up to their second goal was dazzling though the Scots, chiefly the ball-watching Gilmour, were culpable.
Denmark strung multiple first-touch passes together on the edge of the box before Damsgaard applied the killer ball between Robertson and Liam Cooper for Maehle to slip the ball between Gordon’s legs.
Scotland were a rabble at this point. A good block from Gordon prevented Yussuf Poulsen scoring a third at the back post. A patchwork team were simply not being allowed to settle. The hosts refused to respect reputation and attacked an understandably disorientated-looking Robertson down Scotland’s right. Denmark had already scored 14 goals with no reply in this World Cup qualifying campaign. By 15 minutes in they had two more. After 26 minutes the Mexican waves started rippling around the stadium. It was game over.
The stadium was in ferment long before kick-off. “I Har Samlet Nationen Pa Ny” read a banner at one end of the packed stadium: You Have Reunited A Nation.
Scotland were just the poor patsies who reaped the whirlwind from the emotional fallout following Denmark’s European Championship adventures. Kasper Hjulmand’s side endured the horror of seeing their playmaker Christian Eriksen collapse on the pitch in their opening game after suffering a cardiac arrest before they were controversially eliminated by England at the semi-final stage. Eriksen’s No 10 shirt was everywhere. Fans were supporting him in his absence. As Morten Wieghorst, the Denmark assistant manager, said before the game: “We are waiting for him”.
Scotland’s own troubles had to be set in this context. They were on a hiding to nothing here and this was before the personnel problems robbing them of several likely starters. A loose ball from Gilmour seemed to anticipate Scotland’s struggles. Maehle danced around Robertson but ran the ball out of play. Then the roof promptly fell in for the Scots.
The shambolic start recalled the opening game of the regulation Euro 2020 qualifying campaign under Alex McLeish, when Scotland found themselves 2-0 down after ten minutes. They conceded a third on that occasion against a team ranked 117 in the world. At least here there could be no doubts about the quality of the opposition. Preventing any further scoring was a partial victory in itself. Scotland have to move on. There is simply no other option with Moldova to come on Saturday.