What should have been a day of celebrating football in Copenhagen as Denmark took on Finland at Euro 2020 in front of their fans at the Parken Stadium, turned into an unreal evening. Danish superstar Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch toward the end of the first half and the minutes that followed were some of the most worrisome in recent sporting history.
English referee Anthony Taylor signalled to the medics immediately as the players on the field understood what was going on. The midfielder had to be revived on the pitch as the Danish players formed a huddle. He was then stretchered off the pitch, with news starting to filter in that he had regained consciousness. Uefa and the Danish federation confirmed shortly after that he was “awake and undergoing further tests” after he received CPR
The Group B game – just the third of the month-long tournament which kicked off a year behind schedule on Friday – was halted just before half-time with the score goalless and suspended for nearly two hours before restarting.
The Finns won 1-0 thanks to a Joel Pohjanpalo header in their first ever appearance in the European Championship but Eriksen’s plight overshadowed the match.
It was an incident that saw the footballing world hold their collective breath and, after more than an hour of tension, heave a sigh of relief.
Uefa informed that the match was going to go ahead from where it left off, after confirmation from the players from both sides.
“We’ve been in contact with him, and the players have spoken to Christian. That’s the great news. He’s doing fine, and they are playing the game for him,” DBU director Peter Moeller told Danish media.
Team doctor’s update
Later in the night, Denmark’s team doctor described the harrowing moment he realised Christian Eriksen’s pulse had stopped as medics worked desperately to save him in front of traumatised players and a stunned crowd on Saturday.
Medics gave the Inter Milan midfielder CPR on the pitch after he collapsed during the Euro 2020 match against Finland in Copenhagen and he was later said to be “awake” in hospital and his condition had stabilised.
“We were called on the pitch when Christian fell down, I didn’t see myself but it was pretty clear he was unconscious,” doctor Martin Boesen told a post-match media conference.
“When I get to him, he’s on his side. He is breathing and I can see pulse but suddenly that changes, and as everyone saw we started giving him CPR.
“The help came really, really fast from the medical team and the rest of the staff, and with their cooperation we did what we did to do. We managed to get Christan back.”
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand heaped praise on his team after they returned to the field to complete the match after many were visibly distraught at Eriksen’s plight.
Denmark eventually lost their opening Group B game 1-0.
“Everyone agreed to play, and what we tried to do was incredible,” said an emotional Hjulmand.
“We have a group of players I can’t praise enough. I couldn’t be prouder of these people who take such good care of each other.
“They decide first of all not to do anything until we were sure that Christian was conscious, and that everything was OK.
“So we had two options, either finish the game tonight or play tomorrow at midday. Everyone agreed on playing today... The fact that the players tried to play the second and dominate... I’m very affected.
“All our thoughts and prayers are to Christian and his family right now. He’s one of the best players there is and he’s an even better person.”
Messages of support poured in for Eriksen and Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku, his teammate at Inter Milan, shouted “Chris, Chris, stay strong – I love you” into a pitchside camera during the celebration for his opening goal in the 3-0 defeat of Russia in Saint Petersburg.
Belgium vs Russia kicked off at the scheduled time while Denmark vs Finland came to a conclusion.
“I am really happy with the win, but it was hard for me to play because my thoughts were with Christian Erkisen,” said Lukaku, who revealed he cried tears of concern before kick-off for his Inter team-mate.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez admitted other members of his squad were also affected after seeing Eriksen suddenly slump to the turf during the Denmark-Finland game.
“We were watching the game live and five minutes afer Christian collapsed, we went into a team meeting. As you can imagine, the last thing we wanted to do was talk about football,” said Martinez.
“There were a lot of tears from players who have shared dressing rooms and big moments with Christian. All our thoughts go to him and his family, but also to the Danish team, as that was a really tough moment.”
Fabrice Muamba episode
Former footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during a game for Bolton Wanderers in 2012. He recovered later but it marked the end of his career.
“It brought back stuff that I have put down in me, this emotion that is down there. To watch it from that distance and not know what was going to happen,” Muamba told BBC Sport.
“It was scary, but credit to the medical staff. They have done an amazing job on Christian. I like how his team-mates got together to protect him. It brought back emotion that you don’t really want to see on the other side. I hope things turn out to be OK for him. I hope he will come through.”
Scenes at the stadium
Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and captain Simon Kjaer had to comfort Eriksen’s partner in tears by the side of the pitch.
A wave of relief was felt in the Copenhagen stadium when the announcement came that Eriksen was stable.
Some 16,000 spectators in the Parken Stadium had watched in shock as medical personnel administered CPR to the Danish player before he was carried off the pitch.
“I could look down and see he was getting treatment, so everybody was like: ‘I can’t look at this’, and I was like: ‘I can’t look at this,’” Rasmus Ottosen, a 34-year-old Danish supporter, told AFP.
Onlookers feared for the Inter Milan star as he laid on the field for over 10 minutes. His teammates initial stares of disbelief spoke volumes about their concern as they formed a circle around the 29-year-old midfielder.
As medics performed chest compressions, many in the stadium feared the worst.
With the gravity of the situation becoming clear, TV cameras eventually zoomed out.
After about 15 minutes of anguish, Eriksen was finally carried off the pitch and rushed to nearby hospital Rigshospitalet. Reports started emerging that the player appeared conscious with slight movement and holding his hands to his head. Photographs from that moment were the first proof he was alright.
Bridging the divide of the competition, Finnish fans began shouting “Christian!” as Danish fans replied with “Eriksen!”
Meanwhile others began chanting the poetic Danish national anthem “There is a lovely country.”
“Tonight’s match will never be forgotten,” Denmark’s foreign minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted after the match and offered thanks for the inspiring chants from the Finns.
“You embody the very essence of FairPlay!,” Kofod said, adding a “Kiitos!” (Thanks in Finnish) at the end.
After it was confirmed that Eriksen was “awake” and in a “stable condition,” the game resumed at 8:30 pm local time.
According to BBC, “Denmark lost. But life won,” is how a Danish newspaper described the evening.
The Denmark FA issued a follow up statement on Sunday, confirming Eriksen continues to remain stable in the hospital.
Denmark’s team doctor had said Sunday there was still “no explanation” for why the incident happened but confirmed he had suffered a cardiac arrest.
“He was gone, and we did cardiac resuscitation,” team doctor Boesen told a press conference.
“How close were we? I don’t know. We got him back after one defib (defibrillation), so that’s quite fast,” Boesen added.
However, the physician also said they had yet to discover that cause of the 29-year-old’s heart attack.
“There’s no explanation so far,” Boesen said, adding that all tests done so far on the player, who is still in hospital, have come back fine.
“That is also one of the reasons that he is still in the hospital,” the physician added.
Players in the Danish team were given the option to continue the game or postpone it, but on Sunday head coach Kasper Hjulmand said he regretted the decision.
“I honestly don’t think that we should have been on the pitch again,” Hjulmand told reporters.
Hjulmand added that Eriksen had told him he wished for the team to carry on playing in the tournament.
“Christian wishes that we should continue playing, so we will do that. We want to play for Christian,” Hjulmand said.
Updates on Monday
The agent of Eriksen says the Danish player is in “good spirits” but anxious to find out the cause of his cardiac arrest.
“We spoke this morning (Sunday). He was joking, and in good spirits, I found him well,” Martin Schoots told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday, AFP reported. “We all want to find out what happened, him included. The doctors are conducting detailed tests, it’ll take time.”
Denmark’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Martin Braithwaite on Monday lamented that they had to choose whether to restart the match while they were reeling from the incident.
“We were put in a position, that I personally feel that we shouldn’t have been put in,” Schmeichel told Danish media at a press event in Helsingor north of Copenhagen.
“We had two options,” Schmeichel explained. “Either come back the day after (Sunday) at noon or continue the game.”
The Leicester City goalkeeper said he wished someone more senior would’ve said “that it wasn’t the time to take that decision, and that we should maybe wait until the day after to decide”.
“What has happened has happened, and hopefully they’ll learn from this,” Schmeichel said, as he praised what he considered the real “heroes” of the game, the medics.
Barcelona striker Martin Braithwaite said the players would have “wanted a third option, because we didn’t want to play,” noting that the decision to resume the game was “not a wish”.
“It was one of the only possibilities we had, and we were told we should make a decision,” Braithwaite said.
The comments mark the first time since Eriksen’s dramatic collapse and cardiac arrest on Saturday in the game against Finland that his teammates have spoken to the press.
Eriksen’s condition is still “stable” and “good”, Jakob Hoyer, the Danish Football Union’s communications director said, adding that the player remained in hospital.
The players were able to talk to Eriksen via a video call on Sunday, and he was also visited in the hospital by Schmeichel.
“He said in his own way that we should look forward to the game on Thursday (against Belgium). It meant a lot,” midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who missed a penalty against Finland after the restart, told Danish media.
Update on Tuesday
(With AFP inputs)
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