Nicklas Bendtner
Nicklas Bendtner, pictured here after scoring for Wolfsburg, fired a hat-trick for Denmark against the United States. Reuters

A hat-trick from Nicklas Bendtner stunned the United States in Aarhus, as Denmark twice came from behind to secure a 3-2 win. Having already canceled out Jozy Altidore’s early goal, the former Arsenal striker pulled Denmark level once more with seven minutes remaining. And continuing a theme for the U.S. post-World Cup, Bendtner was allowed space once again to fire a fine injury-time winner.

There will be plenty of disappointment in the U.S. camp at failing to see out a creditable result on the road in Europe, but there could be no complaints after 90 minutes largely controlled by a Denmark team that tops their qualifying group for Euro 2016. On a wet, windy night and on a less than ideal surface at NRGi Park, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men had taken a 19th lead courtesy of an emphatic finish from Altidore. But it was a strike very much against the run of play, and Denmark made their dominance of proceedings count when equalizing through Bendtner’s close-range strike. And, while the U.S. looked to have stolen a win when Aron Johannsson scored at the home of his former club midway through the second half, Bendtner decisively took advantage of some further poor defending late on to decide the contest.

In a match where Klinsmann blended experience with continued experimentation after last year’s World Cup, it was another largely disjointed and unconvincing performance for the United States, in keeping with the five matches they went without a win last fall. And, worryingly, the pattern of conceding late goals also goes on. The U.S. has conceded eight goals in the 75th minute or later in their last seven games, and in nine matches since the 2014 World Cup, they have now won just twice.

With experienced figures like Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez left out, the U.S. went with an unfamiliar backline, featuring John Brooks and Michael Orozco at its heart. And right from the off there were signs of fragility, with Denmark coming close to capitalizing on a poor error from Timmy Chandler.

Yet Denmark’s defense also proved to be less than rock solid. And as they got into a mix up from Chandler’s hopeful cross, Altidore was given the space to hammer a left-footed shot into the net from the corner of the six-yard box. It was not a lead that looked likely to stand the test of time. And sure enough, with 33 minutes gone, Denmark pulled level. While a slick move from Denmark, it was far too easy as Daniel Wass crossed low for Bendtner to tap in. As the U.S. repeated their mistake, Bendtner should have got his second, but missed from a similar position before halftime.

After the interval, Klinsmann’s changes unsettled the U.S. team further and Brek Shea and Alfredo Morales were so nearly culpable in allowing Denmark to go in front. The U.S. struggled throughout to get a foothold in midfield, where they were outnumbered by the Danes. Yet Michael Bradley provided a moment of quality to seemingly send the U.S. on the road to an unlikely victory. The midfielder’s pass over the top found his new Toronto FC teammate Altidore, who unselfishly laid the ball off for Johannsson to score on the ground he once called home. In his first appearance since the World Cup, it was the Icelandic-American striker’s only real contribution of the night and he was taken off soon after. From the bench he was to witness his team unravel late on once more.

With the U.S. unable to clear a cross at the near post, Bendtner beat Nick Rimando with a simple finish for the second time in the contest. His third goal, though, was a mark of the quality which he continues to display with far greater regularity for his country than his many clubs. From a fine through ball from captain for the night on his 50th appearance, Christian Eriksen, the Wolfsburg man took it into his stride and showed exemplary technique to fire the ball into the corner of the net. While hardly a 90 minutes that will live long in the memory for the quality of play on show, it was no less than either team deserved.