Euro 2020: Denmark must show their resolve against Belgium without absent talisman Christian Eriksen

After trauma of midfielder's collapse during game against Finland, Danes must refocus on challenge of beating No 1 ranked team in world

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At around ten past six on Thursday evening, Copenhagen time, whatever the score and whatever the circumstances of the match, a special round of applause is planned.

It is confidently forecast that, from a hospital bed not far from the Parken stadium where Denmark will be playing Belgium, the man in whose honour 25,000 people are clapping will be watching, wide awake and alert.

The prognosis is that Christian Eriksen, who collapsed suddenly after a cardiac arrest on Saturday while playing for Denmark, is making a sufficient recovery in hospital to be fully engaged with how his team-mates respond to the alarming, life-threatening moment during their match against Finland.

He has been in touch with them, had visits from some, and knows that in all corners of a sport Eriksen has distinguished through his stellar career he will be regarded, even at distance, as the key figure in Denmark’s first full match since his collapse.

“He’ll be watching the game, for sure,” said Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand yesterday, “and he is close by. He could actually look out of his window and see the stadium.”

Fans, both of Denmark and Belgium, have agreed on the tenth-minute show of support in honour of Eriksen’s national team jersey number, the number 10 – the jersey that identifies him as “the rhythm of the team, the heart of the team,” as Hjulmand put it.

Hjulmand’s overwhelming emotion over the last five days has been relief, that Eriksen’s life had been saved by prompt medical attention, and the immediate assistance in the first seconds of crisis by team-mates like captain Simon Kjaer.

But after the overwhelming concern for Eriksen’s health had been soothed, there would be a variety of feelings, including some anger that Denmark’s players, once they had been assured that their colleague was stable in hospital, were presented on Saturday evening with a restrictive choice about how to proceed with the match against Finland. It had been paused in the 43rd minute for Eriksen’s emergency, then suspended.

Uefa, the Euro 2020 organisers, offered two alternatives: to resume on the same Saturday evening, or to return for noon the next day. The players accepted resuming rather than delaying, knowing that they would have a sleepless night, deeply affected by what had happened. Denmark lost 1-0, to a second-half Finland goal. Hjulmand later criticised Uefa for a “lack of compassion”.

Euro 2020 has been an event defined by health concerns. It was postponed for a year because of the pandemic, attendance at stadiums has been limited by social-distancing protocols and, acknowledging that the frequent coronavirus testing of players would likely yield some positive tests, a mechanism was built into the schedule that matches could be postponed by up to 48 hours in an emergency.

Hjulmand believes the right response last Saturday would have been for Uefa to suggest a delay closer to that length of time.

But the coach and the players’ focus since Monday has been to “move forward, step by step, towards normality,” said Hjulmand. “We are still thinking about Christian, but gradually there has been more time with good feelings than bad ones.”

His aim is that Denmark, playing for Eriksen, just as most of the 25,000 in attendance will be cheering for Eriksen, can “use all our energy to show who we are, and to show that we battle whatever the circumstances.

“We’ve discussed how emotional it will be, and you have to prepare for all those emotions,” the coach acknowledged.

“There have been some difficult days,” added Thomas Delaney, the Denmark midfielder, “but we’ve had time to reflect, away from football, and slowly got back to some normality.”

“An experience like this makes people show their true feelings, and in some ways we know each other even better than before,” said striker Yussuf Poulsen. “We’ve seen our true togetherness. We all know the most important thing is that Christian is okay.”

If the Danish players have Eriksen uppermost in their thoughts at kick-off, Denmark will miss him in a very practical sense.

“Our team could never be stronger without Christian in it,” said Hjulmand, “but we have a lot of very good players and we just have to do things a little differently now.”

Denmark have to apply their resolve, their drive to honour their absent lodestar against a Belgium who are ranked the No 1 national team in the world.