In an ideal world you would start a tournament perfectly and go through it winning everything. That’s what every team at the Euros wants to do. It is the pressure and expectation around that desire for perfection that derails so many teams and campaigns, because a loss early on becomes a big deal. But you can lose and progress. I was part of the Denmark team that showed that at the Euros in 2017: we lost to the Netherlands (who finished as champions) in our group but still got out of the group and reached the final.
How you cope with losing early on is important. If you lose a game you can’t let it get too deep, you can’t let the criticism and talk get to you. You have to move on to the next game, develop and improve through the tournament.
That is something I think England have struggled with because the pressure on England – men and women – is huge. At the Euros England are a team that could go either way. When you look at the names in the squad they have so much talent, players that have been performing really well in the Premier League and it could be a good tournament for England, but can they handle the pressure?
Everyone knows how it can affect performance. Then there is the pressure of history. Maybe if all these players were playing in the France team, for example, a team that have a history of winning, or any other country that has a history of winning, they might be even more favoured. Instead there are questions marks over how they will do and how they will handle it all.
There is a newer pressure too, with players using this big stage and their voice and profile, through taking a knee or otherwise, to tackle racism and other types of discrimination and it is a brave and good thing.
People seem to forget that players, especially men’s football players, are also human. They earn a lot of money but they are still human and are touched by bad comments on social media or elsewhere the same as everyone else is.
Players should not stay away from politics, or whatever people are calling it. It is a good thing to try to make the world a better place. Some want them to just be front figures on the pitch and do everything they can on the pitch only but it is not an either/or thing.
Playing for your national team is something you dream about as a kid and players work really hard to get there. There is no doubt that they will give everything on the pitch. Taking on the responsibility of raising issues that we have in society does not cut across that.
Being part of a major tournament finals is the fun part of being a football player. When you pull on the shirt for your national team and play for a whole country, in a tournament, you feel like you play a part in bringing the whole country together, even if it is for a short period of time.
I remember that feeling in 2017. For every game we won the country just lifts even more. Normally nations come together around international football but this year and this tournament will be more impactful. We need some joy more than ever, we need things outside the pandemic, when we read the newspapers we need it to not all be about Covid and how many cases there are. For one month the focus will be on something else, on football, and football provides so many wonderful emotions, good and bad. Major international tournaments show the power of football to transcend divisions and unite people in the most simplest of ways: around a goal, a pass, a beautiful passage of play regardless of which team is involved, a moment, a feeling.
I think Denmark have a good chance of doing well at the Euros. I can see us at least reaching the quarter‑finals. In 28 games we have lost twice, ironically both times to Belgium, who are in our group, but qualification is definitely realistic. We have a home advantage, too, with our group games in Copenhagen it will be a huge party in the city.
It is important to have a good defence. That’s my experience from tournaments. Obviously you also need something going forward but I would say that having a good defence is perhaps more important – and Denmark have a really good one.
The team has a strong foundation with Kasper Schmeichel in goal and Milan’s Simon Kjær and Andreas Christensen from Chelsea at centre-back. Then with Christian Eriksen (who has had time to settle at Internazionale and is going into the tournament full of confidence, which is important), Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Thomas Delaney in the middle we have some really experienced players that play in top teams.
We have Martin Braithwaite, who has been doing quite well at Barcelona, and Nice’s Kasper Dolberg and Jonas Wind from Copenhagen, and I believe we can play some really good football. We have a new coach in Kasper Hjulmand who’s really good tactically and I think there could be some surprises from Denmark in this tournament.
France are a big favourite for me but I also really like the look of Portugal. Obviously they won the last Euros but you look at the squad now and it is so much stronger — Bruno Fernandes from Manchester United, Atlético Madrid’s João Félix, Diogo Jota from Liverpool, Rúben Dias, Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo from Manchester City. And then you have players like André Silva, who scored 28 goals for Frankfurt this season but struggles to start for the national team. They have really got a great squad now and think they can do something great.
What is exciting it that it is often a team that is not favourites at the start that lifts the trophy at the end. There is a real opportunity for a lot of teams to do something interesting and gamechanging for their nations in this tournament. That’s the fun part with the tournaments, that small countries can go and win it. In 2017 we reached the final against the odds. That is what competitions like this are about.