Euro 2020: Heroes’ exit for brave Danes
With their Euro 2020 campaign looking over by halftime in the opening game after Christian Eriksen’s collapse, Denmark somehow came blazing back to reach the semis, only to finally run out of steam as they lost to England after extra time.
The tournament could not have begun for the Danish players on a more tragic note with Eriksen suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch against Finland. The shocking scenes that unfolded on live television stunned the footballing world as medics battled to save the life of their talismanic midfielder while his distressed teammates looked on.
In the aftermath of that trauma, coach Kasper Hjulmand spoke of how the Danes needed to have the courage to allow themselves to experience their feelings.
Some, like ’keeper Kasper Schmeichel, seemed to recover quicker than others but captain Simon Kjaer was not sure he wanted to play the next game against Belgium, a 2-1 loss that came as no surprise.
Denmark’s campaign was in turmoil, but having shown glimpses of Hjulmand’s ambitious football, the signs of a potential comeback were there.
Mikkel Damsgaard led the way, as he shouldered Eriksen’s playmaking responsibilities and scored a brilliant opening goal against Russia in their final group game in Copenhagen. They walloped Wales 4-0 in the last 16 as the headlines finally turned to their football, rather than Eriksen’s fate.
In the semi-final clash against England, the Danes took the lead through another brilliant Damsgaard goal, but the cracks were beginning to show. A Kjaer own goal levelled the game and by the hour mark they began to wilt and the emotional toll of the last few weeks making its presence felt as an extra-time penalty ended their tournament.
“We’re very, very disappointed, and it’s hard. Maybe it will be easier for me to say how I feel in a few days,” coach Hjulmand told a news conference, unable to hide his frustration at the penalty decision.
Showing bravery and skill, there was no shame in that defeat as the Danes weathered the storm of Eriksen’s collapse, winning new fans at home and abroad and auguring a bright and promising future.
European football’s governing body Uefa opened disciplinary proceedings against England on Thursday over a laser pen shone at Schmeichel during the deciding moment of the semi-final.
TV footage showed Schmeichel was targeted by a spectator using a green laser as England captain Harry Kane stepped up for the penalty to give the home side a 2-1 win on Wednesday. The keeper saved Kane’s initial effort but could not stop the rebound which sent Gareth Southgate’s side into Sunday’s final.