Simon Kjaer gathered his Denmark team-mates in a huddle. Just as he had. The crowd at Copenhagen’s Parken rose to do their bit. Just as they had. A short walk away, it’s said Christian Eriksen pulled on that familiar red shirt – just as he had five days earlier, too.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand was always planning something different for the visit of Belgium on Thursday night.
He and Eriksen had discussed a new role that would help the talismanic midfielder inspire his country once more.
it has been a week since Christian Eriksen’s collapse against Finland shocked the world
Eriksen has been discharged from hospital after undergoing a successful surgery offering a glint of light for Danish football
No one intended for that position to be in Rigshospitalet, the hospital overlooking Parken where Eriksen spent much of the past week.
Denmark was still cloaked in shock and sadness when 25,000 fans returned to the scene of Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, suffered shortly before half-time in their Euro 2020 opener against Finland. So many questions remain. So many pieces of the jigsaw still don’t fit. But what we know: only 13 minutes of emergency treatment on the pitch saved the 29-year-old’s life. ‘That felt like two hours,’ one source close to the Danish team, who attended both games, tells the Mail On Sunday.
The after-shocks of Eriksen’s ordeal will linger, too.
This week it was announced he would be fitted with an ICD. Unfortunately, no heart-starting device can erase the dreadful images imprinted on the mind of team-mates and supporters around the world.
5.44pm (BST) Denmark 0-0 Finland (42 mins)
The alarm is raised by Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
Moments earlier Eriksen had jogged towards the far touchline to collect a throw-in from Joakim Maehle.
Suddenly the midfielder begins to stumble and teeter forward. By the time the ball cannons off his knee. Eriksen is already tumbling to the floor. Maehle collects the ball; Finland’s Jukka Raitala and Robin Lod remain focused on retrieving it.
Finland captain Tim Sparv is among those to wonder: ‘Was he tackled?’
Behind them, though, Hradecky, throws his hands up in distress. He points towards Eriksen. Almost simultaneously, Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney begins to sprint towards his team-mate. From there, chaos reigns.
English referee Anthony Taylor blows his whistle and waves on pitchside medics. Among players of both teams, cries for help become more frenzied as first responder, Maehle, crouches over his stricken team-mate.
Eriksen collapsed after receiving the ball from a throw-in and his teammates immediately knew something was wrong
Eriksen’s face is against the turf but Hojbjerg can see the whites of his eyes. The first of two Denmark doctors arrive within 20 seconds of Eriksen’s collapse. By then, Kjaer has rushed to his side and made apparent attempts to clear the 29-year-old’s airways.
Eriksen lies motionless on his side but medics can feel a pulse. He is breathing.
Kjaer kneels as two team doctors tend to the midfielder’s head. The rest of Denmark’s players are ushered away by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Within a minute more medics, carrying a stretcher, run on from the opposite touchline. The 16,000-strong crowd urge them on.
By now, shellshock has spread around Parken. Ninety seconds havenow passed. Thomas Delaney and Kasper Schmeichel begin to gather their team-mates as Kjaer asks for a human shield around Eriksen.
Applause briefly echoes around Parken, replaced suddenly by howls of panic after Eriksen is turned on to his back and Denmark doctor Morten Boesen begins chest compressions. Team-mate Jonas Wind turns away and cups his hands over his mouth. Schmeichel bends over, panic-stricken.
5.48pm – Four minutes after Eriksen’s collapse
It is two minutes since Eriksen first tumbled. Medic can no longer find a pulse. He is ‘gone’.
His team-mates guard the scene. Striker Martin Braithwaite says a prayer; Danish coach Hjulmand sits on his haunches as his friend fights for life. Delaney battles back tears.
German doctor Jens Kleinfield has now arrived at Eriksen’s side.
He had been watching from the stands by chance, having early given training to the touchline medics. They had covered emergency first aid.
Kleinfield watched the team doctors attempt to ‘pull (Eriksen’s) tongue out of his throat’. He saw the players with heads buried in their hands. So Kleinfield had signalled for the sideline medics to help. They are carrying a defibrillator.
Denmark players led by Simon Kjaer guarded the scene to protect their teammate as he received CPR on the pitch
Kleinfield then turns to his colleagues. ‘We have to go on,’ he says.
Between the protective wall of red and white, medics try to resuscitate Eriksen with a heart massage. They then attach electrodes to his body. Kleinfield takes control. The No 10 jolts as his body is shocked back to life by a defibrillator. The CPR resumes.
Kleinfield knows that if a defibrillator is used within two minutes, the chances of survival are almost 90 per cent. It took nearly three and a half for Eriksen to be shocked but, not long after, the midfielder regains consciousness. He opens his eyes.
‘Are you back again?’ Kleinfield asks in English.
‘Yes, I am here,’ Eriksen responds. ‘S***, I’ve only just turned 29.’
Kleinfield reassures the midfielder that everything is under control – he is now confident Eriksen’s brain isn’t damaged. The 29-year-old puts his arm to his chest.
5.50pm — Six minutes after
By now, Finland’s squad watch on from near their own dugout. Taylor is deep in conversation with both managers and Finland skipper Sparv.
As CPR continues, Kjaer is one of few Denmark players who can bring themselves to face Eriksen.
More medics rush over; the stands are filled with damp eyes and partially-covered faces.
On the pitch, Boesen’s brother Anders is among those treating Eriksen. He was reportedly there as UEFA’s stadium doctor in case of emergency. Very soon, more reinforcements arrive. These medics are armed with a wheelie stretcher.
His teammates including Simon Kjaer and Kasper Schmeichel were heroes on the day
Around Eriksen, Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen holds his shirt up to his eyes. One of the 3,000 away fans passes a Finland flag on to the pitch to reinforce the protective ring. Other medics hold up white sheet to shield the scene from view.
More medics arrive.
Fans at the other end of the ground are left with only questions, prayers – and ‘emptiness’ in their heads. They can’t see what is happening. No information comes over the stadium speakers. Televisions are turned off, too.
They have lost all sense of time. They don’t know what to believe. ‘You thought he was…’ the source tails off. ‘Because you didn’t know anything. You could see everything happening and you didn’t see any life.’
5.56pm – 12 minutes after
The midfielder’s wife, Sabrina Kvist, arrives the pitch. She is wearing a Denmark shirt, carrying Eriksen’s name and number. She is distraught. Schmeichel had already tried to spot the 29-year-old’s family in the stands. He comes to her side, Kjaer takes her in his arms. Schmeichel’s father Peter later revealed: ‘He went over to say that Christian is breathing… she actually believed he had passed away.’
Treatment and uncertainty continues. Eventually, around 12 minutes after Eriksen’s fall, Finland’s players make their way down the tunnel. As Taylor and his officials follow behind, a roar goes up around Parken.
Eriksen has been lifted on to the stretcher. He is wheeled from the field, escorted by wall of sheets, team-mates and medics. Through a gap in the bodies, German photographer Friedemann Vogel snaps Eriksen sitting up, eyes open.
The picture quickly spreads across social media – and around the stands in Parken. Rumours begin to circulate.
Eriksen was pictured sitting up on a stretcher as Kjaer and Schmeichel comforted his wife
Before being taken to Rigshospitalet, a three-minute drive away, Eriksen speaks to team doctor Boesen.
Seven hundred miles east, Romelu Lukaku is wiping away tears. The Belgium striker, Eriksen’s team-mate at Inter Milan, is supposed to be preparing for that evening’s clash with Russia in St Petersburg.
Denmark’s women’s team are in Spain ahead of their own match. They are watching the tragedy unfold on a big screen. Many are crying, one who grew up with Eriksen is ‘losing it’. She would need counselling.
England’s players – several of whom had played with Eriksen – are en route to London for their opener against Croatia. One of Gareth Southgate’s squad is watching on their iPad when shock filters down the coach.
Fabrice Muamba, whose heart stopped beating for more than an hour after a cardiac arrest in 2012, writes on Twitter: ‘Please God.’
6pm — 16 minutes after
Inside Parken, attention turns briefly back to football. After the match was suspended, UEFA inform the teams they can either finish that evening. Or at midday the following day.
When Finland’s players arrive back in the dressing room, Sparv is among those to immediately contact their family.
They agree to let Denmark decide but both teams are clear: they won’t play unless they know Eriksen is stable.
Denmark’s base is 40-odd minutes from the stadium – the thought of an early rise after a sleepless night does not sit well.
Instead Denmark’s squad discuss the trauma. It is okay to say ‘no’ if you don’t want to play, they are told. Some didn’t, some were ready. Hjulmand feels everyone is being pressured by UEFA.
Soon, reports claim Eriksen has dialled-in from hospital and encourages his team-mates to play. The news that he is awake and stable at hospital filters through to the other dressing room and the crowd at Parken.
That sliver of hope prompts a wave of emotion. The Finnish fans, near where Eriksen had collapsed, begin to chant: ‘Christian’. Their Danish counterparts respond: ‘Eriksen.’
At 19.30pm local time, the Danish FA confirm Eriksen is awake. Soon his agent reveals he is talking with his father.
20.32 (local time) The match resumes after 108-minute delay
Finland’s players applaud the Danish team back on to the pitch for their warm-up.
It’s said Kjaer, weighed down by the trauma, could not stop looking towards the stands where Eriksen’s wife had sat. He lasts only 20 minutes before being substituted. Others are ‘completely done – emotionally done and emotionally exhausted,’ too.
Finland win their maiden tournament match thanks to Joel Pohjanpalo’s goal and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s late penalty miss.
There is little cause for celebration.
Back at the Denmark hotel, players and staff are given psychological help. They talk through their feelings.
It is a similar picture at Finland’s base where, rather than toasting a famous victory, Kanerva’s players stay up until 4am discussing the trauma.
Somewhat surprisingly, the match was restarted and Denmark fell to a 1-0 loss to Finland
Over the following days, positive updates began to trickle out of Rigshospitalet.
On Sunday, Eriksen spoke to his team-mates. He asked after them and joked that maybe they were in worse state than him.
The midfielder’s memory of his ordeal was hazy but insisted he wanted to be out on the training pitch again.
Then came his first public message.
‘I won’t give up. I feel better now – but I want to understand what’s happened,’ a statement read.
Schmeichel and Kjaer visited him in hospital and by Monday, according to his agent, Eriksen was ‘joking’ in a ‘good mood’.
He swapped messages with Lukaku and Tuesday brought a smiling photo from the hospital bed. ‘I’m fine – under the circumstances,’ Eriksen said.
Denmark and Belgium stopped their game to applaud Eriksen 10 minutes into the match
Across the park, preparations were already underway for Denmark to rise again.
The evening before facing Belgium, Hjulmand allowed his players to visit the stadium to exorcise a few demons.
Then, with Eriksen watching from hospital, Denmark turned five days of mourning into a tribute to their talisman.
‘The atmosphere was unbelievable,’ the source adds. ‘That is hopefully where things turned a little bit… you could really feel this was a night you’ll never forget.
As striker Martin Braithwaite headed back to the dressing room following defeat by Belgium, he saw a message from their Eriksen in the team Whatsapp. ‘Fantastic,’ was the midfielder’s verdict.
Similar sentiments greeted news on Friday that Eriksen had undergone a successful operation and had been discharged from Rigshospitalet. He visited his team-mates before returning home to spend time with his family.
A glint of light at the end of a long, dark few days in Danish football.
Fans sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ while fans brought messages of support for Eriksen