Denmark ready to ‘show who we are’ vs. Belgium at Euro 2020
COPENHAGEN (AP) — 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.
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku said the players will kick the ball out of play so that both teams can join in the applause.
“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.”
Hjulmand also pointed out that the hospital treating Eriksen is so close to the stadium that the midfielder will be able to “hear everything” during the game.
“I think he’ll be in his (Denmark) shirt and watch the game (on TV),” Hjulmand said.
The problem for Denmark is that, after losing to Finland 1-0, it now faces one of the top teams in the tournament. Going into Euro 2020, Denmark only had two losses in its last 23 games, and those both came against the Belgians last year in the Nations League. 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.
”Obviously now it’s a question of how long Kevin can play,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. ”I’m really pleased with the progress that he’s making. Every day makes a big difference.”
Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel could also make a return, six months after tearing his Achilles tendon.
It will likely be a strange experience for 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.
The striker warned, though, that he won’t take it easy on Denmark when play starts.
”We must also not forget that we have to win a game,” Lukaku said.
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.”
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