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Christian Eriksen: There would be something fitting if Euro 2020 is remembered for acts of human strength

·4-min read
 (Pool via REUTERS)
(Pool via REUTERS)

The defining images from major tournaments are almost never from the group stages, let alone the first 24 hours, but nothing at the European Championship will prove as unforgettable as the Denmark players forming a human shield around their stricken talisman Christian Eriksen, or captain Simon Kjaer comforting his teammate's partner.

In a way, given the circumstances of the delayed tournament and the past 18 months, there would be something fitting in Euro 2020 being remembered for acts of human strength and compassion in the face of shocking evidence of our own fragility.

It hardly felt possible to be any more grateful to medical professionals but the incident was another unneeded reminder of the heroism and brilliance of the staff who seem to have saved Eriksen's life on the pitch.

Kjaer's quick-thinking in appearing to clear his friend's airways and the lack of hesitation from English referee Anthony Taylor in calling for assistance are also worthy of high praise, while it was stirring to witness the reaction of the Denmark and Finland supporters at the Parken Stadium.

After Eriksen had left the pitch on a stretcher and the match had been abandoned, the visiting Finland fans chanted "Christian" and Denmark fans replied by shouting "Eriksen".

And yet Eriksen's collapse will cast a long and dark shadow over the tournament. For the past year, football has provided a release from the grim life-and-death reality of the pandemic and the Euros was supposed to be another signpost to normality, a hard-earned celebration as the continent begins to re-open.

So to be confronted by the fine line between sickness and health in the midst of one of the opening matches was a gut-punch.

The live scenes broadcast by the BBC – which went on longer than was decent and prompted an apology from Gary Lineker – were genuinely shocking and heart-wrenching.

Nothing matters beyond a full and quick recovery by Eriksen, but the incident raises uncomfortable questions for the game.

Watch: Euro 2020 briefing - Finland win after Denmark match is restarted following Eriksen collapse

We may never know if what happened was any consequence of the most relentless domestic season in history, including seemingly needless and ill-advised internationals, but it was hard not to wonder about the correlation after news filtered through that Eriksen was stable.

The decision to restart the match so soon was also jarring and in the circumstances it was hardly a surprise that Denmark fell to a 1-0 defeat, not that it mattered a jot.

The instinctive and correct reaction to witnessing Eriksen pitch forward onto the turf and fall unconscious is that everything else is meaningless, particularly the football itself.

It immediately cast all other concerns into a blinding perspective. Selection decisions, international rivalries, our bitter national squabble over taking the knee all suddenly seemed irrelevant as all spare emotions were stripped away.

Tottenham fans were understandably at the centre of the outpouring of emotion on social media. Many were frustrated at the manner in which Eriksen played out his final months at the club before leaving for Inter Milan, believing he had checked out.

Seeing him prone on the pitch and receiving CPR left only memories of his greatest moments for the club and an understanding that the bitterness and anger was only because it hurt so much to see such a fine player and person leave their club.

At Spurs, Eriksen was known as the most down-to-earth of Maurico Pochettino's overachieving squad. A brilliant professional but simultaneously the player who seemed least like a professional footballer, the easiest to relate to for those of us outside the bubble.

You only have to look at the reaction of his teammates past and present to know what an impressive character he is. Romelu Lukaku, currently Eriksen's teammate at Inter Milan and Tottenham's Heung-min Son both dedicated goals to him last night, with the message: "I love you."

The tournament will continue for another month, likely without Eriksen, but he will remain in everyone's thoughts as he recovers.

From here, even most unexpected of underdog stories on the pitch would not generate close to the same emotion that the football world felt for one of their own on Saturday.

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