Eriksen’s teammates to ‘play for Christian’ at Euro 2020, Denmark still in ‘national shock’

Sports

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (NewsNation Now) — Christian Eriksen has told his Denmark teammates to look forward to their European Championship game against Belgium on Thursday while national shock hasn’t quite dissipated.

“He told us to look forward, and to look forward to the game on Thursday,” Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg said Monday. “That meant a lot. … It gave me a form of energy.”

Danish players Martin Braithwaite, left, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg attend a press conference, in Elsinore, Denmark, Monday, June 14, 2021. Denmark played their opening Euro 2020 group game against Finland on Saturday when during the first half Denmark’s player Christian Eriksen’s heart stopped and and was given lengthy medical treatment before regaining consciousness. (Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Hojbjerg was one of three Denmark players — along with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and forward Martin Braithwaite — to talk to the media about Eriksen’s collapse.

Interest in CPR and defibrillators has been pulling the attention of Danes away from soccer’s European Championship since Eriksen’s collapse.

The tournament, with the national team playing all three of its group games at home in Copenhagen, was supposed to create a two-week party in the capital — with many hoping Denmark would be able to repeat its improbable triumph from the 1992 tournament.

But the 29-year-old Eriksen fell face-forward onto the field with cardiac arrest during the team’s opening game against Finland on Saturday. And suddenly a large portion of Denmark’s 6 million people were watching live on TV as one of the country’s best-known athletes was given emergency CPR, his teammates standing around him with tears in their eyes.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called it “a national shock.”

“Rarely has it been less important whether a football match was won or lost,” Frederiksen wrote on Facebook.

Eriksen, widely regarded as Denmark’s best player, was resuscitated with a defibrillator and was in stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital on Monday.

Eriksen’s message to teammates

Eriksen had a simple message for his Denmark teammates when he spoke to them from the hospital for the first time following his collapse at the European Championship.

Eriksen spoke to his teammates via video link on Sunday, which all three of his teammates said was an important boost as they try to re-focus on the Euro 2020 tournament. Denmark plays Belgium in Group B on Thursday after losing to Finland 1-0.

“It gives you the feeling that it’s OK to move forward,” Hojbjerg said. “We really want to play on Thursday, to play for Christian and to play for everyone who has supported us.”

Denmark’s Andreas Christensen controls the ball at the training ground during a training session of Denmark’s national team in Helsingor, Denmark, Monday, June 14, 2021. It is the first training of the Danish team since the Euro championship soccer match against Finland when Christian Eriksen collapsed last Saturday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The team trained on Monday after the players were given Sunday off to process the incident.

“It was not our wish to play,” Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said about resuming the Sunday game. “We had two options and would have liked a third option. But we were told we had to make a decision. … There were many players who weren’t in a condition to play the match. We were in a completely different place.”

UEFA defended itself Monday from claims that Denmark players were put under pressure to resume the match.

“UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players,” the governing body said. “It was decided to restart the match only after the two teams requested to finish the game on the same evening.”

The Danish players have been widely praised at home for forming a circle around Eriksen to shield him from public view as the medical staff gave him CPR. Denmark’s team doctor said Sunday that Eriksen “was gone” before being resuscitated.

Braithwaite could be seen praying as he stood in the circle around Eriksen and fought back tears Monday when asked about that moment.

Denmark’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel exercises at the training ground during a training session of Denmark’s national team in Helsingor, Denmark, Monday, June 14, 2021. It is the first training of the Danish team since the Euro championship soccer match against Finland when Christian Eriksen collapsed last Saturday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

”I tried doing the only thing I could to help him at that moment,” Braithwaite said.

Hojbjerg recounted the initial confusion when he first saw Eriksen on the ground.

“I turned around and I saw Christian lying there. I could see the whites of his eyes,” Hojbjerg said. “Then I saw more and more medical staff rushing toward Christian and I saw Simon (Kjaer) waving his arms.”

Schmeichel, who is close friends with Eriksen and his family, said he had been able to visit the midfielder in the hospital as well.

“That’s helped me a lot,” the goalkeeper said. “To see that he’s OK after he was lying there like that. … We talked about everything and nothing. That he’s doing well, that’s the most important.”

the national shock hasn’t quite dissipated

Eriksen’s collapse remains the talk of the nation. Many wonder how it could happen to such a healthy player. And a debate is still raging over whether the game should have been called off. It was suspended for about 90 minutes before resuming, having been stopped near the end of the first half. Finland went on to score in the second half and won 1-0.

The interest among Danes in learning CPR and how to use a defibrillator has skyrocketed. A national organization that puts up defibrillators across the country said more than 640 people have volunteered to learn how to use one since Saturday — compared to 90 the previous weekend.

There also has been widespread anger in Denmark toward European soccer governing body UEFA for only giving the players the option of either finishing the game on Saturday evening or resuming on Sunday at noon instead.

Danish fans react after Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and received medical assistance before being taken to hospital. (Friedemann Vogel/Pool via AP)

Another much-debated topic has been the impact on young viewers, who watched one of their sporting idols lying unconscious on the ground.

For unprepared children, seeing such pictures equals “a slap in the face,” said Ane Lemche, a psychologist with the Danish chapter of Save the Children.

“And children can also get confused, because he looks quite lifeless and that is uncomfortable for a child,” she told Danish broadcaster DR.

Boerns Vilkaar, a child counselling organization, posted advice for parents on its website, saying many children who watched were “scared, insecure and sad.”

The Danish soccer federation also tweeted a link to the organization’s advice.

“Those kinds of pictures can be hard to get out of your head,” the organization wrote. “Some children may think about it a lot and be affected by it for a long time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article; all reporting by Jan M. Olsen and Mattias Karen.

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