Kevin de Bruyne, a second half substitute for Belgium, turned the game on its head.
Berlin: Ten minutes into this emotionally charged occasion, the game came to an unprecedented stop. To coincide with the number worn by Christian Eriksen for Denmark, the game stopped as both sets of players and the entire stadium stood and applauded their stricken star player.
It was a beautiful and emotive moment to celebrate Eriksen on the Parken turf. As Eriksen, who will have a heart defibrillator implanted, watched from his bed in a nearby hospital, he would have heard the applause echo across the park that separates the Copenhagen stadium from the Rigshospitalet hospital. A banner was unfurled that read “Denmark is with you, Christian.” Such was the intensity of feeling, it felt as though the whole of Denmark was in the stadium.
By this point, Denmark were already 1-0 up. Belgium are one of the toughest assignments Denmark could have been handed under the circumstances, a team blessed with significant individual quality, but Denmark were playing with Eriksen in their hearts. And Yussuf Poulsen, the striker who plies his trade in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, drilled a low shot into the bottom corner. He ran to the patch of turf where Eriksen collapsed last week and was mobbed by his teammates in a moment of Danish delirium.
Denmark were magnificent in the first half. Hunting Belgium in packs and flooding forward in numbers, it was a 45 minutes to behold against one of the tournament favorites. Denmark’s euphoria was doused soon after the break though as Belgium drew level with a goal that was too good – Romelu Lukaku’s awareness, Kevin de Bruyne’s disguised cross and Thorgan Hazard’s tap-in were simply a cut above.
If De Bruyne’s assist was good, things got even better a few minutes later. The Manchester City midfielder, a halftime substitute whose very presence on the field raised Belgium’s game, turned it on its head with a glorious second. Following Lukaku’s decisive run infield to find Youri Tielemans, he rolled the ball to his left, where De Bruyne struck it low first-time past Kasper Schmeichel. His celebration was muted, but Belgium had already silenced Parken with nothing but pure footballing genius.
Denmark gave it everything and they aren’t the only team he’s played for to suffer in his absence, but the Danes just couldn’t live with the attacking quality Belgium possess – despite Martin Braithwaite’s late header that grazed the bar. The defeat leaves Denmark with only a slim chance to progress, even if they beat Russia on June 21 – but after the week they’ve collectively endured, everything is in perspective.
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