Soccer-Danes face emotional Parken return for Belgium Euro clash


Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Denmark Training - Elsinore, Denmark - June 15, 2021 Denmark's players during training REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Days after playmaker Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, Denmark return to the Parken Stadium to face Belgium in a game that could prove crucial to their Euro 2020 fate.

Having lost 1-0 to Finland in the aftermath of Eriksen's collapse, Kasper Hjulmand's side have been trying to recover in time to face a Belgium team who thumped Russia 3-0 in their opener, and they will have to do so without their best player.

"I have said that Eriksen is the heart, the pulse, the rhythm of our team. He has an incredible ability to perceive time, space and rhythm in a football match, (but) he won't be there on Thursday," Hjulmand told reporters.

"We have a lot of other players who can contribute, and skilled players who can also find the rhythm of the match. We are putting something together that will be difficult for Belgium. I'm sure of that," he added.

At training in the town of Helsingor this week, several Danish players still appeared shocked after the events at Parken where Eriksen had to receive CPR before being removed to a nearby hospital where he is recovering.

The positive outcome for the 29-year-old cannot mask the trauma suffered by some in the Denmark squad, and Hjulmand has spoken openly about the strong feelings in the camp.

"It's totally OK if someone does not have the emotions needed to not give everything in the game. We need to prepare for an emotional trip to Parken," he said.

"It will be a special atmosphere. We have to prepare mentally, the players are used to that. What are some of the emotions that can hit us? It's going to be weird to come back, we're going to be met with a lot of emotions."

Those emotions will not be limited to the Danes. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is a good friend of Eriksen as the two play together for Italian club Inter Milan.

Lukaku celebrated one of his goals against Russia by running to a TV camera and saying "Chris, Chris, I love you" on Saturday evening, hours after the stricken midfielder had regained consciousness.

Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld, a former team mate of Eriksen at Tottenham Hotspur, spoke of his shock at the incident, but warned that his side still had their sights set on victory in Copenhagen.

"How the (the Danes) handled that situation is incredible. A textbook example, and for that they have my eternal respect. But we will try to win," he told the Belgian FA website http://www.rbfa.be/en.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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