Before Wales’ training session on a scorching hot morning at the Giulio Onesti complex in Rome, Ben Davies pulls up a pew guarded by the shade and talks through the minutes that felt like hours – when he learned of his close friend and former Tottenham teammate Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest.
“It was pretty horrific,” he says. “He is a good friend and I just didn’t know what was happening. I was on the phone to quite a lot of our mutual friends – it was a bit of a worry and a panicked stage at the time. Thank God everything seems to be OK and that is he is healthy and happy.”
Eriksen was discharged from Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen last week following a successful operation to fit a defibrillator implant. The Internazionale midfielder spent seven years at Tottenham, six of them alongside Davies. Until news of Eriksen returning home after visiting the Denmark squad at their training base filtered back, uncertainty lingered.
“I’ve spoken to him a few times since,” Davies says. “He seems to be in good spirits. I don’t know what happens with him from here on out but it’s best we just let him have his privacy, let him spend time with his family and the most important thing is he’s still alive.”
On Saturday, Wales and Denmark go head to head in the last 16 of the European Championship at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, home of Ajax, Eriksen’s first professional club and whom he left for Spurs in 2013. Davies, meanwhile, lived in Denmark as a boy after his father, Alun, went there for work and spent two years in Viborg. “We had some great times out there as a family,” the defender says.
There are a few familiar faces in the Denmark squad – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is another Spurs teammate of Davies – but Eriksen’s absence is a reminder of the bigger picture at play. “The football side of it, once that happened [in Copenhagen] it became completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is he that he is alive and he will be there for his family.”
Davies acknowledges the spirit Denmark have displayed in getting to this point given the distressing scenes in Copenhagen. “It must be incredibly tough for them,” he says. “To play on the way they did after the way the incident happened, and to carry on, it’s definitely going to spur you on. They deserve a lot of credit for standing up and performing the way they have.”
Wales fly to Amsterdam from Rome on Thursday after deciding against returning to Cardiff, as originally planned before the tournament. In the knockout stages for the second time in five years after squeezing out of Group A on goal difference, the possibility of matching their success at Euro 2016, when they reached the semi-finals, suddenly does not feel quite so insurmountable.
“Getting out of that group was a big challenge,” says Davies of Switzerland, Turkey and Italy, whom they lost to on Sunday. “A lot of people wrote us off and to finish second and show the resilience we did, it has not really sunk in how big an achievement that was yet. For us now, we have to start relishing it. This is where we enjoy it.
“We built that expectation – we expected ourselves to get out of the group, we built that pressure on ourselves to get out of the group first and now the pressure is off. Now it is about seeing how far we can go and we really believe we can go on and create something special.”
On Monday afternoon, the Wales squad enjoyed an open-top bus tour of Rome, but all focus is on beating Denmark. Davies, for one, has been warned. “I spoke to him [Eriksen] last night after the [Denmark-Russia] game and he said that we’ll be in for a tough one,” he says, grinning.