The Denmark coach, Kasper Hjulmand, paid tribute to his players after they completed their Euro 2020 group match against Finland despite witnessing Christian Eriksen being given CPR on the pitch shortly before half-time.
The players formed a protective circle around their teammate as he was resuscitated, but then, after a suspension of more than an hour and half, agreed to complete the match, once word had come through that Eriksen was awake and talking in hospital.
“It was a tough night,” Hjulmand said. “We are all reminded what the most important thing in life is and that is to have valuable relations. We have a group of players I can’t praise enough. I couldn’t be prouder of these people who take such good care of each other at such a time where one of my very, very dear friends is suffering.”
Hjulmand described how the players agreed to wait until they were sure Eriksen was OK, and then chose between the two options they were offered: either to carry on or to return on Sunday at 2pm. “There was no pressure from Uefa to play tonight,” he said. “We knew we had two options. The players couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep tonight and then having to get on the bus and come in again tomorrow. Honestly it was best to get it over with. Of course you can’t play a game with such feelings and what we tried to do was incredible.”
The national team doctor, Morten Boesen, was one of those who tended to the player on the pitch. “I didn’t see it myself but it was pretty clear that he was unconscious,” he said. “When I get to him he is on his side. He is breathing and I can feel his pulse but suddenly that changes and as everyone saw, we started giving him CPR.
“Help came really, really fast from the medical team and the rest of the staff and with their cooperation we did what we had to do. We managed to get Christian back. He spoke to me before he was taken to the hospital for more analysis.”
Denmark lost the game 1-0, but that was far from being a concern. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with Christian and his family right now,” said Hjulmand. “Christian is one of our best players and he’s an even better person, so all my thoughts and all my positive energy go out to Christian.”
The Danish football federation director Peter Møller said the players had spoken to Eriksen and were “playing the match for Christian”. Hjulmand outlined the toll the events had taken on his squad.
“There are players in there who are completely emotionally finished ... they are holding each other,” he said, struggling to hold back tears. “It was a traumatic experience. I said that, no matter what, everything was OK.
“We had to allow ourselves to show joy and aggression, to make room for the emotions. You cannot play a football match at this level without being aggressive.”
Hjulmand revealed that the captain Simon Kjær, a close friend of Eriksen’s, had to be withdrawn after the restart. “Simon was deeply, deeply affected,” he said. “Deeply affected. He was in doubt whether he could continue and gave it a shot, but it could not be done.”
Denmark next face Belgium on Thursday in Copenhagen. “There is the opportunity to get help,” Hjulmand said. “We are trying to pick ourselves up now and get ourselves sorted as much as we can. We have professionals with us. We will talk about it tonight, try to process it and move on together.”