As one Danish newspaper put it: “Denmark lost. But life won.”
At the end of a highly emotional night in Copenhagen, there was immense relief that Christian Eriksen, who collapsed shortly before half-time in Denmark’s opening Euro 2020 game against Finland on Sunday, was awake and stable in hospital.
There was appreciation, too, that those around him acted with such urgency. Urgency that may well have saved the football star’s life.
Eriksen had just played a short pass when he fell face-forward onto the ground. His teammates immediately gestured for help and medics rushed onto the field.
As Eriksen lay unconscious on the field, his pulse deteriorating, Denmark team doctor, Morteen Boesen, quickly realised the severity of the situation.
“He was breathing, and I could feel his pulse. But suddenly that changed and as everyone saw, we started giving him CPR,” Boesen told reporters on Sunday (AEST).
The following 10 minutes were among the most frightening to ever unfold during a match at football’s European Championship. Several medics worked frenetically to give Erikson CPR while his tearful teammates formed a circle around the midfielder to shield the scene from public view.
The incident brought an instant sense of shock to the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, where 15,200 fans became silent and were asked to remain seated and calm by the stadium announcer. After a prolonged silence in the stadium, they were finally replaced with immense cheers when the footballer was revived.
“We managed to get Christian back, and he spoke to me before he was taken to the hospital,” Boesen said.
Eriksen was awake and in a stable condition on Saturday night after being taken to a Copenhagen hospital, the Danish football federation said.
"Football is a beautiful game and Christian plays it beautifully," says UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin.
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) June 12, 2021
It was later revealed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest.
“It was a cardiac arrest,” Boesen said at a press conference on Sunday.
“He was gone, and we did cardiac resuscitation. How close were we to losing him? I don’t know. We got him back after one defib [defibrillation]. That’s quite fast.”
“The examinations that have been done so far look fine. We don’t have an explanation to why it happened.”
His collapse, which came in the 43rd minute of the match, led to the game being suspended for nearly two hours before both teams made the decision to play on – with Finland ultimately winning 1-0.
The view before Denmark and Finland resumed their match: pic.twitter.com/eAnwEmuGXt
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 12, 2021
Finland defeated Denmark, 1-0, after the teams resumed their match following Christian Eriksen’s hospitalization.
Joel Pohjanpalo didn't celebrate his goal despite it being Finland’s first at a major tournament. pic.twitter.com/zNBbJmlFfb
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 12, 2021
The heroes who helped save Denmark’s star player
The football community has commended Eriksen’s teammates, medical staff, and the referee for their actions.
Denmark captain, Simon Kjaer, has received worldwide recognition following his heroic actions.
Kjaer was one of the first players on the scene and appeared to secure Eriksen’s neck, clear his airways, and administrated CPR until medics arrived. Kjaer then consoled Eriksen’s distraught wife, wrapping his arms around her as the Inter Milan midfielder received treatment.
Denmark’s captain @simonkjaer1989 ensured Eriksen didn't swallow his tongue when he was unconscious, gave him CPR, told the squad to form a protective shield around him, consoled Eriksen’s horrified wife & has now led his team back into the game. You, sir, are a hero. pic.twitter.com/ih3qJm1x7s
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 12, 2021
I think we all wonder how we’ll react in a crisis situation… And until it happens, you’ll never really know.
Simon Kjær now knows. Hero. pic.twitter.com/IkBB39qAWH
— Joe Crann (@YesWeCrann) June 12, 2021
Captain and hero: Simon Kjaer.
Before the medics got there he secured his neck, cleared the airways and started CPR. Could have saved #Eriksen’s life. Act of heroism.
Kjaer trying to keep also Cristian’s wife strong, is very emotional.
What a man. 💪
So proud of you 🙏♥️ pic.twitter.com/eOFOMksODe
— Angelo Mangiante (@angelomangiante) June 12, 2021
As Eriksen was being resuscitated, his anxious teammates formed a protective ring around him, offering some privacy from over 15,000 fans in attendance and the millions watching on television.
Boesen revealed that the swift attention from medical staff was able to bring Eriksen back to life.
“The help came really, really fast from the medical team and the rest of the staff, and with their co-operation we did what we had to do. We managed to get Christian back,” he said.
Match referee, Anthony Taylor, was also applauded for immediately halting the match and signalling for medical help when Eriksen collapsed before leading both teams down the tunnel.
Denmark coach regrets restart
UEFA, the administrative body for European football, said both teams had held an emergency meeting before deciding to continue playing. The players came back out onto the field to a massive ovation as they started warming up for a second time.
Denmark coach, Kasper Hjulmand, said the teams were given the option of finishing the game on Saturday or resuming on Sunday, but said both teams wanted to get the match over and done with.
“The players couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep tonight and then having to get in tomorrow, get on the bus and play a game,” Hjulmand said after game.
“Honestly, it was best to get it over with.”
However, Hjulmand has since said the match should not have been restarted.
No, we should not have played,” he said on Monday (AEST), “Players have different reactions to shocks and trauma but we’ll try to get back to normal as much as possible.”
Hjulmand added: “I get the feelings from the players that maybe the time is too short to try to play football again, but maybe we can use it as a force to get together and try to go out and do our best in the next match.”
Former Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel has called the decision to resume Saturday’s game, which Finland won 1-0, was “absolutely ridiculous”.
Schmeichel told BBC Radio 5 Live that UEFA should have worked out “a different scenario and shown a little bit of compassion”.
“UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players,” the governing body said in a statement.
BBC apologises for ‘inexcusable footage’
In the United Kingdom, broadcast host BBC came under criticism for showing live footage of CPR being performed on the player, as well as his wife being consoled by Danish players.
The BBC were quick to apologise. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Everyone at the BBC is hoping Christian Eriksen makes a full recovery. We apologise to anyone who was upset by the images broadcast.”
“In-stadium coverage is controlled by UEFA as the host broadcaster, and as soon as the match was suspended, we took our coverage off air as quickly as possible.”
“Obviously these were the host pictures and out of our control. They should have stayed on a wide [view] of the stadium. Apologies.”
Host Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter: “In 25 years of doing this job, that was the most difficult, distressing and emotional broadcast I’ve ever been involved with.
“Get well soon, Christian Eriksen.”
We will be back on air at 7.25 on @bbcone. I understand some of you would have been upset with some of the images shown (we were too). Obviously these were the host pictures and out of our control. They should have stayed on a wide of the stadium. Apologies.
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) June 12, 2021
While there have been statements about Eriksen’s health over the past few days, Eriksen himself sent a brief statement to Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Thank you all, I won’t give up,” Eriksen said. “I feel better now but I want to understand what happened.
“I want to say thank you for all you did for me.”
Since the event, there has been an outpouring of tributes and support from the footballing world to Eriksen, the Denmark National Football Team, and the medical staff that saved his life.
While horrifying, the event also acted as a uniting moment where football was pushed aside and all players, coaches, and fans of the game came together as one.