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England vs Denmark: a brief history

A part-time banker and the inventor of the modern football feature in our look back at semi-finalists' long footballing relationship.

David Beckham leads England out for their 2002 World Cup meeting with Denmark
David Beckham leads England out for their 2002 World Cup meeting with Denmark Bob Thomas Sports Photography vi

England welcome Denmark for the second of the UEFA EURO 2020 semi-finals, less than a year after Kasper Hjulmand's side recorded their first competitive victory at Wembley since 1983.

UEFA.com looks back over the nations' previous meetings and footballing connections.

England vs Denmark: live coverage

Ancient history

England's Football Association was the first national association to be founded, in 1863; the Danish Football Association became the fifth, in 1897, and the first outside the British Isles. The nations' first recorded meeting was an unofficial friendly in London in October 1911: England won 3-0, though the Danes prevailed by the same scoreline when they reconvened for another unofficial game in Copenhagen in 1914.

CompetitionEngland winsDrawsDenmark winsEngland goalsDenmark goals
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The teams also met – in a way – in two Olympic finals. Football was officially introduced to the Olympics in London in 1908, with Great Britain fielding a line-up composed entirely of English players. Great Britain beat the Danes 2-0 in the final and then confirmed their superiority with a 4-2 success in the 1912 decider in Stockholm.

One of the stars of those Denmark sides, defensive midfielder Nils Middelboe, was a pioneer in English football as the first non-UK national to play for Chelsea. He represented the Blues from 1913 to 1923 but never signed a professional contract, even though doing so would have meant a big increase on the salary he earned as a banker. Dubbed 'The Great Dane', he preferred to stay amateur on the grounds that he was "by no means mad about football".

Eigil Nielsen leaps during the 1948 Olympic meeting with Great Britain
Eigil Nielsen leaps during the 1948 Olympic meeting with Great BritainGetty Images

While the bulk of leading English clubs had turned professional by the end of the 19th century, Danish football remained amateur, with the top players who moved abroad to play for professional clubs excluded from the national team. England was to be the destination for some of them, notably Karl Aage Hansen (Huddersfield) and Viggo Jensen (Hull City), who were among the stars of the Denmark side that finished third at the 1948 Olympics, beating Great Britain 5-3 at Wembley in the bronze-medal match.

One of their international team-mates, Eigil Nielsen, perhaps had a bigger impact on football all over the world. A leather and shoe industry worker by day, the goalkeeper is credited with devising the 32-panel soccer ball (20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal patches). First introduced in 1962, it remains the standard design for all match balls.

EURO meetings

Allan Simonsen (top) celebrates Denmark's winner in 1983
Allan Simonsen (top) celebrates Denmark's winner in 1983Getty Images

The sides were first paired in EURO qualifying for the 1980 finals. With the amateur rule having been abandoned in Denmark in 1971, the national team (featuring Ajax pair Frank Arnesen and Søren Lerby, and soon-to-be Barcelona man Allan Simonsen) gave Ron Greenwood's men a run for their money before losing 4-3 in Copenhagen and 1-0 in London.

Simonsen scored the penalty that earned Denmark a 1-0 win at Wembley in EURO 1984 qualifying; the sides had earlier drawn 2-2 in Copenhagen and that victory in north London proved pivotal in Sepp Piontek's Danes making it to the finals, pushing England down into second place in qualifying Group 3.

Denmark also proved to be a thorn in England's side in their only previous finals meeting; the teams locked horns in the opening game of the 1992 European Championship in Sweden and a 0-0 draw in Malmö was the start of a miserable tournament for Graham Taylor's England, who bowed out bottom of their group. Denmark – who had only qualified for the finals because Yugoslavia were forced to withdraw – went on to win the competition against all odds, beating Germany 2-0 in the final.

Highlights: Denmark's 1992 final glory

"Richard Møller Nielsen did a phenomenal job," midfielder Brian Laudrup later explained. "He managed to trick each of us mentally and ignite a spark in us. He made us believe that we could actually win. He made us believe that the impossible was possible."

Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was the only member of Denmark's EURO '92 squad who played his club football in England. His son and fellow No1 Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester) is one of seven English-based players in Denmark's EURO 2020 contingent, along with Joachim Andersen (Fulham), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Tottenham), Mathias Jensen, Christian Nørgaard (both Brentford) and Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton).

Other competitions

Highlights: England 0-1 Denmark

The two teams were rivals in 1958 FIFA World Cup qualifying, England winning 5-2 at home and 4-1 away, and came together again at the 2002 finals, Denmark offering little resistance in the round of 16 as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey scored first-half goals in Niigata, Japan. "Three-nil is maybe too much, but we won and we're in the quarter-finals,” said England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson.

The sides' most recent encounters came in the UEFA Nations League in 2020. They drew 0-0 in Copenhagen before Christian Eriksen's penalty earned Denmark a 1-0 win at Wembley in October – a game in which England's Harry Maguire and Reece James were both sent off.

Denmark celebrate their 4-1 win against England
Denmark celebrate their 4-1 win against EnglandGetty Images

"It means something to the whole of Denmark," said coach Kasper Hjulmand afterwards. "In 1983, it was Simonsen who scored on a penalty; tonight it was Christian. It's 37 years since Denmark won here at Wembley. It's a giant performance from the boys."

In the friendly realm, England have had the better of the teams' contests over the years, but those matches do include some notable Danish successes – not least a 4-1 win in Copenhagen in 2005. Dennis Rommedahl, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Michael Gravgaard and Søren Larsen were on target against a Three Lions XI featuring David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. It was England's heaviest defeat since 1980, and they have only lost by a three-goal margin once since, 4-1 in a World Cup finals game against Germany in 2010.

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