Denmark v Finland live on the BBC, had been a good match for the first 40 minutes. Denmark were exerting themselves, but Finland were far from overwhelmed in what was their debut at a major men’s championships.
But as the Group B opener at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium approached half time, Denmark’s creative midfielder Christian Eriksen – who had lit up the match with his usual promptings from the No.10 role – fell to the ground in the far right-hand corner of the pitch under minimal pressure from an opponent.
It was immediately apparent that the 29-year-old Internazionale midfielder was in distress, as both sets of players gestured urgently for medical staff to tend to the stricken midfielder. Memories of Fabrice Muamba collapsing while playing for Bolton in 2012 came flooding back, of Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell in 2007, of Cameroonian Marc-Vivien Foe in 2003 and Jock Stein’s heart attack during Wales v Scotland at Ninian Park in 1985.
The severity of this situation then became very clear, very quickly. Eriksen was surrounded by his team-mates. Captain Simon Kjaer was first to him, making sure he did not swallow his tongue while unconscious. They all wore panicked, fretful expressions. Finland’s Paulus Arajuuri held his head in his hands. Medics rushed to Eriksen, firstly keeping him in the recovery position before rapidly administering CPR and AED on the field of play, in front of the players, in front of 25,000 supporters, in front of millions on television.
The image of Eriksen getting chest compressions – shown live – will be a hard one to erase for anyone that watched it. Criticism from viewers about whether the broadcaster should have continued their coverage rather than cutting to the studio flooded in on social media. That debate is for another day, however.
As medical staff frantically tried to resuscitate Eriksen, his team-mates formed a circle around him to shield him from the watching world. Their grief-stricken faces were haunting. Denmark’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and Kjaer went over to Eriksen’s partner, Sabrina Kvist Jensen, on the sidelines, to comfort her as the player lay prone on the turf. The conduct of the Danish players while under such intense emotional stress, with the cameras on them, was incredible. Forget whoever lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy in a month’s time. They will be the abiding image of this tournament.
The Finland supporters at that end of the Parken Stadium threw their flags onto the pitch to shield Eriksen. After what seemed like an eternity, Eriksen was stretchered off the pitch and we all waited, praying for the best but with fears for the worst.
Pictures then started to emerge of Eriksen, colour drained from his face but awake and sitting up receiving oxygen. Then the message came, from UEFA and the Danish FA: he had been taken to hospital and had been stabilised. His agent, Martin Schoofs, confirmed that his man was speaking. It then emerged that Eriksen had a Facetime call with his team-mates, who had gone back into their dressing room, and that he “feels better now”. The relief. The joy. The tears.
The fact that the match recommenced at 7.30pm doesn’t really matter. The result does not really matter. As UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said, moments like this put everything in life into perspective. The football world's only real thoughts were with Eriksen, his partner, his two children, his family, his team-mates, his friends after going through an horrific ordeal. All that mattered was that he was stable and awake. All that mattered was that he continued his recovery after a shocking evening.