Christian Eriksen: Denmark’s Euro 2020 Fairy Tale

As Danish hero Christian Eriksen collapsed unexpectedly in a European Championship fixture against Finland on 12 June, qualification from the group felt like the least important thing in the world to those gathered in the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.

Nine days later, however, in the same arena, Denmark completed an unlikely turnaround as they defeated Russia to finish second in Group B. The result was celebrated by neutrals throughout the footballing world.

The talismanic midfielder Eriksen, 29, was coming off an immensely fruitful second half of the season after he won the Scudetto with Italian giants Inter Milan. If Denmark were to succeed in the Euros, so the narrative went, then the former Tottenham man would play a vital role with his iconic set-pieces, clever runs into the box and ability to find teammates thanks to his supreme vision.

But just 41 minutes into the Danes first game of the tournament, Christian Eriksen collapsed after a cardiac arrest. The whole of Europe held their breath for 15 agonising minutes as CPR was performed before medical staff carried a conscious Eriksen off the field to a rapturous applause and to a local hospital.

Mancunian referee Anthony Taylor was lightning quick to stop play and signal the medical staff. Captain of ‘the Red and White’ Simon Kjær promptly cleared his close friend’s airways and led his team in forming a red wall around Eriksen to provide privacy and solidarity for the number 10 and the medical staff pitchside provided CPR which ultimately would save the life of the 29-year-old.

Such immediate actions were powerful and should not be understated in importance. On Anthony Taylor, it must be said that outstanding refereeing has been a feature of this tournament, but no matter what the English official does in his career, his quick-thinking in a moment that no referee can truly emotionally prepare for, will no doubt be the most significant. Finnish fans and players should too be commended for the respectful way in which they conducted themselves.

The most disappointing part of the whole incident, for many, was the role of the producers in charge of the television feed at UEFA headquarters and of those at the BBC, and other stations, who chose not to cut away to the studio. The footage shown would have been traumatic for many, whilst the footballing world knows how compassionate and strong Kasper Schmeichel is and so a close-up of the Leicester goalie consoling Eriksen’s partner was absolutely not necessary.

Thankfully though, the sharp decision-making of all involved on the field saved the midfielder. “He was gone,” declared Morten Boesen, the Danish team doctor, when asked about the incident. A whole continent let out a collective sigh of relief as news filtered through from the Danish Football Union and UEFA of Eriksen’s stable condition.

Bizarrely, it was announced, the remaining 58 minutes of the Group B opener would be finished just hours after the traumatic episode. This decision was berated widely, with former Danish stopper Peter Schmeichel describing the proposed restart as “ridiculous,” given the fact that players had just watched a colleague and friend in such a perilous position before their very eyes.

Unsurprisingly, Denmark, who had dominated the match until the worrying incident, looked a shell of their usual self. It was no surprise, too, that the usually reliable figures of Kasper Schmeichel and Simon Kjær looked like their mind was elsewhere and the former made an uncharacteristic mistake to help Finland towards victory. Following defeat, the odds had become heavily stacked against Kasper Hjulmland’s charges.

Losing a key man and an opening match in one fell swoop is a damaging blow in any case, but even more so in such heart wrenching and emotionally draining conditions. Many players would be forgiven for downing tools. The message coming out of the Scandinavian team’s camp, however, was clear and unanimous. With the blessing of the popular figure Eriksen, Denmark would aim to escape the group. As they had stood shoulder to shoulder to provide dignity for Eriksen, they once more would stand tall and take on the challenge of getting a result against Belgium or Russia.

The Belgium match came and went. Denmark again performed well in the first half and took the lead through Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen, but in the end the class and dynamism of ‘Red Devils’ trinity Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne put the Danes to the sword. It would all come down to the clash with hit-and-miss Russia.

In a topsy-turvy showpiece at the very sight of the horrific events of the opening fixture, Denmark ran out winners. Prodigious youngster Mikkel Damsgaard scored a long range belter and opportunist Poulsen punished a Russian mistake to put the Nordic side two-up. Russia struck back to create a nervy finale, before Chelsea’s Andreas Christiansen scored the goal of the tournament so far and Joakim Mæhle added some late gloss. Despite the 4-1 win, Denmark still needed a slight helping hand from Belgium to ensure passage to the next round, and fittingly it was Eriksen’s club teammate and close ally Lukaku who was on-song to defeat Finland. 

The scenes which greeted full time transcended football. Those gathered in Copenhagen’s premier stadium let out a roar that was not simply a celebration of a team winning a game, it was a victory against the odds, against logic, and a dedication to the darling of the nation, who they had so nearly lost. The team spirit of this Denmark side and their close relationship with their adoring fans is clear for all to see. These players will no doubt go on different paths in their careers and in their lives, but these past two weeks, and the coming weeks too, will bind them together forever.

In light of the emotional occurrences of the night of 12th June, the sporting fraternity have come together in support of Christian Eriksen. Whilst many provided touching messages, it is perhaps the words of current footballer Daley Blind, former footballer Fabrice Muamba and retired cricketer James Taylor, which will provide the most solace.

Dutch defender Blind, a former teammate of the Dane at Ajax and a man who twice collapsed on the pitch in 2019, told reporters to “Leave him alone!” amid questions on whether Eriksen would take to the field for Inter Milan or Denmark again. Former Bolton midfielder Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest in 2012, echoed these sentiments whilst also calling for support for Christian’s “wife and children”. 

On the ‘No Balls’ cricket podcast, ex-Nottinghamshire batsman James Taylor, who retired following the diagnosis of a serious heart condition described as “very fortunate,” the proximity of top medical staff and a defibrillator and stated that “life itself is a great option to have,” in a call for the Dane to take every individual day as it lies and spend time with his loved ones. Such supportive and reassuring messages will no doubt be relayed to Eriksen and his family, whilst Taylor’s point about access to defibrillators should open up an important debate surrounding the necessity for such equipment in public, and even private, spaces.

Whatever happens in this tournament, the Danish playing, coaching and medical staff have performed heroic feats and have made their nation and their good friend Christian extremely proud. In doing so, everyone involved in the Denmark camp has written their names into a fairy tale as magical as any Hans Christian Andersen story and one that will be passed down through the ages. 

This week, it was announced that Christian Eriksen’s condition has been steadily improving, leading to the star being discharged from hospital and such news will mean more to the Danish population than any result.