EURO 2020: Emotional Denmark ready for Belgium challenge

"We showed who we are on and off the pitch on Saturday. And again, Thursday we will show who we really are,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said ahead of the Belgium game.

Denmark will host Belgium in a Euro 2020 encounter at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on Thursday (File Photo).   -  Getty Images

For Denmark, it is time to somehow focus on advancing in the ongoing European Championship. Five days after Christian Eriksen’s collapse against Finland, the Danes will return to the Parken Stadium on Thursday to face top-ranked Belgium in their second Group B game.

It promises to be an emotional return for a team that is still processing Saturday’s incident and has spent the last few days just figuring out how to feel good about playing a game again.

But with Eriksen recovering well, and telling his teammates they should re-focus on the Euro 2020 tournament, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said the players are able to move forward "with a clean conscience."

"We are ready to show who we are once again," Hjulmand said. "We showed it on the pitch (and) off the pitch Saturday. And again Thursday we will show who we really are, and how we play, and how we fight."

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The team is also ready for a very special atmosphere at the Parken Stadium. About 25,000 fans will be allowed in amid loosened pandemic restrictions — up from 15,000 for the Finland game — and they are sure to show their appreciation for a team that has been widely hailed as heroes by the entire country in the wake of Eriksen's collapse.

Fans are planning a tribute to Eriksen by giving him a standing ovation in the 10th minute of the match — in honour of his No. 10 football jersey — and will likely be chanting his name throughout.

"We’ll try to prepare ourselves for this experience," added Hjulmand. "But it will be emotional for sure. But we should use these emotions for the match and get ready to fight, get ready to play well. And allow ourselves to go with everything we have. And hopefully we can use this for something positive and be strong out there."

The problem for Denmark is that, after losing to Finland 1-0, it now faces one of the top teams in the tournament. Belgium beat Russia in 3-0 in its first game and could see the return of playmaker Kevin De Bruyne after he was back in full training this week following a facial fracture.

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Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel could also make a return, six months after tearing his Achilles tendon. On the other hand, it will likely be a strange experience for his teammate Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku plays with Eriksen at Inter Milan and said he “cried a lot” before the Russia game after hearing about the collapse. Lukaku scored twice in that game and ran to a TV camera after the first goal to shout “Chris, Chris, Strength boy, I love you” in a mixture of Dutch and English.

Now his task is to ruin the moment for Denmark. Meanwhile, for Hjulmand, Eriksen’s absence also presents a purely practical problem: How to replace the team’s best player? “He's is the rhythm of the team, he is the heart of the team,” he claimed.

"It’s not possible to replace him. But together we’ll do something else, we will do something different. Because you cannot replace Christian Eriksen. But we’ll definitely have a strong team on the pitch with a lot of quality. And we have a very, very strong team united together, ready to fight."

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