For Denmark, it's time to somehow focus on soccer again at the European Championship.
Five days after Christian Eriksen's collapse against Finland, the Danes will return to Parken Stadium on Thursday to face top-ranked Belgium in their second Group B game.
It promises to be an emotional return for a team that is still processing Saturday's incident and has spent the last few days just figuring out how to feel OK about playing a game again.
But with Eriksen recovering well, and telling his teammates they should re-focus on the Euro 2020 tournament, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said the players are able to move forward ”with a clean conscience.”
“We are ready to show who we are once again,” Hjulmand said.
“We showed it on the pitch (and) off the pitch Saturday. And again Thursday we will show who we really are, and how we play, and how we fight.”
They are also ready for a very special atmosphere at Parken Stadium. About 25,000 fans will be allowed in amid loosened pandemic restrictions — up from 15,000 for the Finland game — and they are sure to show their appreciation for a team that has been widely hailed as heroes by the entire country in the wake of Eriksen's collapse.
The players formed a ring around the Inter Milan midfielder to shield him from public view as a team of medics performed emergency CPR. Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest but was resuscitated with a defibrillator.
Fans are planning a tribute to Eriksen by giving him a standing ovation in the 10th minute of the game — in honor of his No. 10 shirt — and will likely be chanting his name throughout.
“We'll try to prepare ourselves for this experience,” Hjulmand said.
“But it will be emotional for sure. But we should use these emotions for the match and get ready to fight, get ready to play well. And allow ourselves to go with everything we have. And hopefully we can use this for something positive and be strong out there.”
The problem for Denmark is that, after losing to Finland 1-0, it now faces one of the top teams in the tournament. Belgium beat Russia in 3-0 in its first game and could see the return of playmaker Kevin De Bruyne after he was back in full training this week following a facial fracture.
Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel could also make a return, six months after tearing his Achilles tendon.
It will likely be a strange experience for Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku as well. Lukaku is teammates with Eriksen at Inter and said he “cried a lot” before the Russia game after hearing about the collapse. Lukaku scored twice in that game and ran to a TV camera after the first goal to shout “Chris, Chris, Strength boy, I love you” in a mixture of Dutch and English.
Now his task is to ruin the moment for Denmark.
For Hjulmand, Eriksen's absence also presents a purely practical problem: How to replace the team's best player?
“He's the rhythm of the team, he is the heart of the team,” Hjulmand said.
“It's not possible to replace him. But together we'll do something else, we'll do something different. Because you cannot replace Christian Eriksen. But we'll definitely have a strong team on the pitch with a lot of quality. And we have a very, very strong team united together, ready to fight.”
Belgium midfielder Nacer Chadli, Eriksen's former teammate at Tottenham, said it's difficult to know what to expect from this Denmark team given the circumstances.
”For them it is an exceptional situation,” Chadli said.
”They have a lot of good players, we will have to be at our top level. But it remains to be seen what mental state they will have going into that game.” (AP)
Match And Telecast Details
Match: UEFA European Championship 2021, Group B match between Denmark and Belgium
Date: June 17 (Thursday), 2021
Time: 9:30 PM IST
Venue: Parken Stadium - Copenhagen
TV Channels: Sony Sports Network
Live Streaming: SonyLIV, Jio TV
Head-to-Head: Denmark and Belgium are tied at six wins each with three matches ending in draw.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Denayer, Vermaelen; Meunier, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Hazard; Mertens, Lukaku, Carrasco
Denmark: Schmeichel; Maehle, Kjaer, Christensen, Wass; Damsgaard , Hojbjerg, Delaney; Poulsen, Wind, Braithwaite
Previous match XI
Belgium's team Vs Russia: Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Castagne, Dendoncker, Tielemans, T. Hazard; Mertens, Lukaku, Carrasco
Denmark's Team Vs Finland: Schmeichel; Maehle, Kjaer, Christensen, Wass; Eriksen, Hojbjerg, Delaney; Poulsen, Wind, Braithwaite