COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – In any other circumstances, Finland’s 1-0 victory over Denmark in their first major tournament appearance would have been an underdog story to treasure and celebrate.
But after Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch as halftime approached on Saturday, it was the Danish players who came away as the real heroes of the night.
The scenes of Eriksen’s team mates forming a ring around their friend, arm in arm, tears running down their faces, will stay with anyone who witnessed them for a long time.
When the teams eventually left the pitch, it seemed unthinkable that the match could continue.
Although the exact nature of what had happened to Eriksen remained uncertain, there was little doubt of the severity of the incident or the traumatic impact it had on the Danes.
It was therefore a surprise to many when soccer’s European governing body UEFA announced the match would resume less than two hours after Eriksen’s collapse, although there had been news by then that he was awake and stable in hospital.
The Finland squad applauded the Danish players back on to the pitch as they tried to somehow focus their minds back on a European Championship in which many tipped them as dark horses.
Remarkably, the dominance the Danes showed in the first 43 minutes continued when the game resumed as they applied pressure on the Finland defence and gave little away at the other end.
They did so without their creative hub in Eriksen and in front of a crowd that had understandably lost some of its earlier enthusiasm for the match.
Finland’s winner came against the run of play but was well taken as Joel Pohjanpalo sneaked in front of his marker to power home a close-range header from an excellent cross on the hour.
In a moment that underlined the uniqueness of the occasion, the striker refused to celebrate the biggest moment in the history of the Finnish national team, their first major tournament goal, out of respect for the circumstances.
Even that sucker punch did not put Denmark down and they came again, earning a penalty that promised to get them back in the contest.
However, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s effort was tame and easily saved by the impressive Lukas Hradecky. The midfielder fell to his knees in despair.
Finland deserve credit for a resilience that allowed them to soak up 23 attempts without conceding a goal, although those statistics also raise familiar questions about Denmark’s lack of a predatory goalscorer and clinical edge.
But Kasper Hjulmand’s Danish side left the Parken Stadium with their heads held high for the way they conducted themselves in such difficult circumstances.
They still have every chance of reviving their Euro 2020 hopes in the final two Group B games against Belgium and Russia.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Ken Ferris)