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Denmark’s Dramatic Beatdown Of Russia Was Soccer At Its Best

Denmark's players celebrate at the end of the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Russia and Denmark at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 21, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images

Denmark star Christian Eriksen’s on-field collapse and lifesaving resuscitation by team doctors was one of the most terrifying things to happen during a game in a very long time, the sort of event so horrific that it immediately clarifies that sports are nothing compared to real life or death stakes. It was odd that the Danes had to retake the pitch a few hours later to finish the Finland game, which the team wound up losing 1–0, and it was a bummer they blew an early lead against Belgium and lost that one too, though Eriksen reaching stable condition and leaving the hospital days later meant so much more than any result Denmark could muster without him. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delightful to see Denmark turn its on-field performance around today by smoking Russia to leapfrog all the way up to second place in Group B, earning a spot in the knockout round.

Each team in the group had the chance to advance coming into the group’s final match. For the Danes to seal a spot in the next round, they needed to beat Russia, needed Belgium to beat Finland, and needed both victories to be at a wide enough margin for Denmark to surpass Finland on goal difference. These sorts of interlocking contingencies sometimes produce snoozers, like when two teams tacitly agree to play out a bloodless draw, but today it made for extremely entertaining soccer.

Denmark played rather nervously for the first half hour, but Eriksen’s replacement Mikkel Damsgaard opened the scoring in the 38th minute with a fantastic ball into the corner. Yussuf Poulsen doubled the lead twenty minutes later with a really funny goal following a gravísimo error.

Still, the 2-0 result by itself wasn’t enough to ensure the Danes’ place in the quarterfinals, since Belgium was still level with the Fins at that point. Thus began a ridiculous final half hour in the group. Romelu Lukaku smashed one in, elating Belgian and Danish fans, only for the VAR to rule the goal out for an offside. Minutes later, Denmark gifted Russia a penalty, which Artem Dzyuba converted. At that point, Denmark was two goals in the hole to Finland, but the tide turned again when Finland’s keeper farted in an own goal in the 73rd minute of that game. All that madness, however, was all in service of setting the stage for Andreas Christensen to run onto the ball, feebly cleared after the Russian keeper made two great saves, and blast that bad boy at like 200 miles per hour straight into the net.

Somehow, the madness persisted. Lukaku scored another goal but for real this time, and Denmark added a fourth on the break, making up the goal difference with some to spare. After the final whistle, the Danes huddled around someone’s phone waiting for the Belgium result to hold, only truly celebrating with their fans once both games had officially ended.

Denmark will play Wales in Amsterdam next week, becoming the first-ever team to advance out of the group stages after losing both of their two opening games. That’s a nice stat, though the Euros’ forgiving format and diluted pool is only one tournament old, so the factoid is a little misleading. And really, isn’t it much cooler and more significant that Denmark became the first-ever team to move on to the next round after watching their their captain suffer cardiac arrest and nearly die on the field in their opener?

Even taking the field again after that took guts, and if Denmark had bounced out quietly, nobody could have blamed them. Playing through the trauma would be one thing, but also Eriksen is their best player. That they’ve moved on shows an incredible depth of spirit, and it’ll be impossible to root against these guys for the rest of their (hopefully lengthy) run.

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