By Andrew Warshaw
June 22 – In the land of Hans Christian Andersen, a modern fairytale has been written to warm the hearts of football fans worldwide.
On a rollercoaster night of nail-biting drama and unbridled emotion, Denmark somehow reached the last 16 of Euro 2020 – and of course dedicated their success to Christian Eriksen, nine days after their midfield talisman needed life-saving treatment after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Having lost their first two group games, including that stomach-churning opener against Finland, Denmark’s stunning 4-1 victory over Russia completed a remarkable turnaround that at one stage looked likely to end in despair but finished on a high as Belgium did them a favour in the other group game with two second-half goals against the Finns.
As feelgood stories go, they don’t come much better.
Incredibly, it was Eriksen’s replacement Mikkel Damsgaard who started the party off with a 38th-minute wonder goal.
A terrible blunder Roman Zobnin allowed Yussuf Poulsen to double the lead on the hour and even after Artem Dzyuba converted a penalty, Denmark, roared on by a 23,000 crowd in Copenhagen, held their nerve and added two more magnificent strikes to finish in second place and send the shell-shocked Russians tumbling out of the competition.
Having been traumatised by the fate of Erikson, the Danes, who began the night bottom of the group, now look forward to a last-16 clash with Wales in Amsterdam – the first team in the history of the Euros to reach the knockout stage after losing their first two games.
“It’s so insane that we’ve gone through. This team, these players. It’s great to be a part of it,” said Damsgaard. “I have never dreamed of being a part of something so big, so it’s a great feeling.”
After huddling around a mobile phone with his players to receive confirmation of Belgium’s victory over Finland, Danish coach Kasper Hjulmand was a picture of elation.
“We hoped it would be a magic night. I want to say thank you to all the people who have been supporting us and who have shown so much love.” he said. “I could feel it really affected the players so thank you so much for the support, it means the world to us.
“The motivation, the team spirit, the friendship among the players was amazing. If someone deserves this it’s our players. I can’t imagine how they managed to come back from what they went through.”
”After the last 10-12 days that we’ve been through, it feels great to advance,” added goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel whose father Peter was in goal when Denmark expectedly swept to the title in 1992.
“So much has happened, but now the Euros start in earnest for us. We have a chance to make this a really good tournament after a very, very difficult start.”
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