Group B, Denmark v Belgium, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, 5pm (Live on RTÉ 2 and ITV)
Days after playmaker Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, Denmark return to the Parken Stadium to face Belgium in a game that could prove crucial to their Euro 2020 fate.
Having lost 1-0 to Finland in the aftermath of Eriksen's collapse, Kasper Hjulmand's side have been trying to recover in time to face a Belgium team who thumped Russia 3-0 in their opener, and they will have to do so without their best player.
“I have said that Eriksen is the heart, the pulse, the rhythm of our team. He has an incredible ability to perceive time, space and rhythm in a football match, [but] he won’t be there on Thursday,” said Hjulmand.
“We have a lot of other players who can contribute, and skilled players who can also find the rhythm of the match. We are putting something together that will be difficult for Belgium. I’m sure of that,” he added.
At training in the town of Helsingor this week, several Danish players still appeared shocked after the events at Parken where Eriksen had to receive CPR before being removed to a nearby hospital where he is recovering.
The positive outcome for the 29-year-old cannot mask the trauma suffered by some in the Denmark squad, and Hjulmand has spoken openly about the strong feelings in the camp.
“It’s totally okay if someone does not have the emotions needed to not give everything in the game. We need to prepare for an emotional trip to Parken,” he said.
“It will be a special atmosphere. We have to prepare mentally, the players are used to that. What are some of the emotions that can hit us? It’s going to be weird to come back, we’re going to be met with a lot of emotions.”
Those emotions will not be limited to the Danes. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is a good friend of Eriksen as the two play together for Italian club Inter Milan.
Lukaku celebrated one of his goals against Russia by running to a TV camera and saying “Chris, Chris, I love you” on Saturday evening, hours after the stricken midfielder had regained consciousness.
Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld, a former team-mate of Eriksen at Tottenham Hotspur, spoke of his shock at the incident but warned that his side still had their sights set on victory in Copenhagen.
“How they [the Danes] handled that situation is incredible. A textbook example, and for that they have my eternal respect. But we will try to win,” he said.
The Denmark players will not train at the Parken Stadium ahead of their Euro 2020 clash with Belgium, but some of them will visit the arena in an attempt to put the traumatic events of Eriksen’s collapse behind them.
Teams usually train at the match arena the day before a game, but the Danes chose to remain at their base in the coastal town of Helsingor, about 45 kilometres from Parken.
“We are not training in Parken, but we will have a bus going in there for everyone who thinks it is a good idea to get back and just be there and see everything again, and be there for the first time since Saturday, so that is a possibility for all of us,” said Hjulmand.
The Danes have had psychologists and crisis counsellors helping the players who witnessed their stricken team-mate receiving life-saving treatment on the pitch.
“The hospital is right next to Parken and probably he will be able to hear everything [against Belgium] , so that’s a crazy situation for Christian. Yeah I think he will be in his shirt and watch the game,” Hjulmand added.
The Danes now face arguably their toughest game in Group B against top-ranked Belgium as they try to get their campaign back on track.
“There is no doubt that we are underdogs. We are up against a world-class team ... they are one of the teams that would remind you most of a club side in terms of their flexibility and clarity,” Hjulmand said.
“We have to reach a high level as a team, and we must also reach a high level individually. I’m pretty certain that we are going to play a strong game.”