The country and football world were in shock as the Danes’ talisman, Christian Eriksen, suffered a cardiac arrest at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12 just before half time against Finland
Eriksen was brought back to life on the pitch, in front of millions of viewers, and when the match was restarted, Denmark lost 1-0 to Finland and sat bottom of their group, with the players and fans alike shell-shocked by what happened to one of their heroes.
Denmark could easily have been forgiven for sloping out of this tournament, considering what happened. In fact, the complete opposite has happened.
Kasper Hjulmand’s men will line up in the last four of the tournament, at Wembley on Wednesday night, against either Ukraine or England after they vanquished Czech Republic 2-1 in Baku. At the same time as they took down the Czechs, a picture emerged of Eriksen with a young fan in the north of Denmark as the Internazionale midfielder recovers from his ordeal. It was fitting.
Denmark, European champions in 1992, have a right good chance of lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy a week on Sunday. They play with passion, courage, endeavour and no end of skill – and that’s without their star man Eriksen. In the stifling heat of the Azeri capital, many miles from home, they were too strong for the Czechs, who themselves have had a fine tournament.
In front of a sparse crowd, far removed from the full houses we’ve seen in Copenhagen during Euro 2020, Denmark got off to the best possible start. Just five minutes were on the clock when Jens Stryger Larsen swung over a corner kick and Thomas Delaney, unmarked, planted a downward header beyond Tomas Vaclik and into the bottom corner. Denmark’s captain, Simon Kjaer, played a pivotal part by cutely blocking off Czech defenders to leave Delaney free to score.
The Czechs, conquerors of Scotland in their opening match at Hampden, seemed rattled by the early goal, and Delaney and Mikkel Damsgaard both passed up chances to increase Denmark’s lead. By the 20-minute mark, Jaroslav Silhavy’s men had a toehold in the match and created their first chance of note, only for Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel to deny Tomas Holes from close range.
Czech Republic would have been content to go in just a goal behind, but Denmark struck a savage blow on 42 minutes. The hugely impressive Joakim Maehle scampered down the left and delivered a fine cross that evaded Martin Braithwaite, but not Kasper Dolberg, and the latter flicked the ball home for a 2-0 lead.
The Czechs had to come out firing in the second period and did so. Michael Krmencik stung the palms of Schmeichel before Patrik Schick, the striker of this tournament, got them back into this match with an effortless finish inside the box from a fine Vladimir Coufal cross on 49 minutes.
The momentum was with the Czechs, but they failed to truly test Schmeichel properly again, and were not helped when Schick had to go off with a hamstring complaint.
That resulted in the Danes holding on. The semi-finals await. What next in this dramatic Euro 2020 story for Denmark.