ROME: Thrust into the starting line-up after Christian Eriksen's near-fatal cardiac arrest, Mikkel Damsgaard has emerged as Denmark's revelation of Euro 2020, helping his country resurrect a campaign that was almost over before it started.
Nicknamed 'Damsinho', the gifted Damsgaard, whose flamboyant talent has caught the eye of Europe's elite, embodies the enthusiasm and determination of a Danish team that faces England in Wednesday's semi-final at Wembley.
"I could never have dreamed of a better birthday present. It's crazy to get to Wembley," said the Sampdoria winger, cited by Danish daily BT, after Saturday's 2-1 quarter-final win over the Czech Republic, on the day of his 21st birthday.
"It's an adventure to be here. Crazy, after everything that has happened."
Hand-picked by Kasper Hjulmand to rebuild the attack in the absence of Eriksen, Damsgaard is more familiar than most with the Denmark coach, who handed the Jyllinge-born youngster his professional debut at Nordsjaelland in 2017.
"He's a super player," said Hjulmand. "The fact that's he's been able to throw himself into this and do it on this stage (Euro 2020) is fantastic," he told Danish media.
- '100 percent inspired by Eriksen' -
His superb opening goal in the crucial 4-1 group-stage win over Russia saw him become Denmark's youngest scorer at a European Championship.
The Danes scraped through as runners-up of Group B despite losing their first two games, and Damsgaard impressed again in the 4-0 thrashing of Wales.
"He resembles a graduate fresh out of school... but on the big stage at the Euro, he appears like an old, seasoned fighter for the national team, almost like Christian Eriksen in his prime," wrote BT.
Like the Inter Milan midfielder, Damsgaard is technically adept, strong with both feet and possesses great vision.
"I have been inspired by him, 100%," he told Danish news agency Ritzau.
"He is one of the players I have watched the most. I really looked up to him when I was younger and played more like a number 10, just like him."
Damsgaard though is quick to point out the two play different roles, explaining: "I'm a bit more on the wing and in attack than him."
- Sampdoria reluctant to sell -
His performances haven't gone unnoticed either in Italy, where Damsgaard made steady progress this season under Claudio Ranieri at Sampdoria.
He played 35 times in Serie A, scoring twice and adding four assists, no mean feat in a league where it can be hard for youngsters to settle.
"Ranieri has been crucial in accelerating my adaptation to Italian football," Damsgaard said in an interview with Sportweek magazine in February.
"I needed to make the step up by playing more competitive football than the Danish league... and I have to say that it matched my expectations, I needed that."
While under contract until 2024 at Sampdoria, a successful first year in Italy punctuated by a surprise breakout display at the Euro has already drawn interest from big clubs, including AC Milan.
But he will have to bide his time at Sampdoria, who are reluctant to let go of a player bought for six million euros from Nordsjaelland a year ago.
"How much is he worth? I don't know because he's not for sale. I am keeping a tight hold of him and we'll help him to develop because I want to get to the amount he's worth, between 30 and 50 million. He's a pure talent," said Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero, in a bid to ward off potential suitors.