Out of the many shocks of Saturday’s Denmark-Finland Euro 2020 game was that the game continued not even two hours after Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. When it was announced, most couldn’t fathom that either team would be in any kind of state to play. Part of UEFA’s statement — “per the players’ request” — was certainly meant to soothe those concerns, as were stories coming out that Eriksen himself had told his teammates from the hospital to play on.
You’ll never believe this, but UEFA was apparently full of shit.
Today, a few Danish players bemoaned the lack of options they were given, and the idea that they were gung-ho to continue or were in any place to do so. And their complaints revolve around the same point: they were asked to make the decision on whether to continue the game in the immediate aftermath, in what was probably the worst and scariest moment of their careers. Kasper Schmeichel said it. Martin Braithwaite said it. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg said that Eriksen had only referenced their next game against Belgium, even though UEFA tried to spin it that Eriksen had urged them to continue the Finland game. Schmeichel made an uncharacteristic mistake for Finland’s goal, Højbjerg tamely missed a penalty, and both instances looked to be the result of players who simply were not there mentally, as anyone might have guessed.
To play the devil’s advocate, and when talking about a soccer governing body that’s not much of a stretch of a description, the options weren’t plentiful. It is unlikely that anyone associated with Denmark would want to forfeit the game completely, or either Finland and Denmark having the result simply declared a draw, if that was even an option. They likely would have wanted to play at some point. Finland are scheduled to play their second game Wednesday, and Denmark Thursday. So really, the only other option would have been to continue the game Sunday, giving Finland the minimum 48 hours or more of rest between games. Obviously, delaying the decision on that to Sunday would have had some complications, but nothing unresolvable, if done in the morning. Perhaps Finland would have been OK with even waiting until Monday to continue the game, seeing as how the match only had 49 minutes left. Again, probably could have been decided Sunday morning. Because really, who could think clearly about it on Saturday afternoon?
UEFA has yet to comment on the Danish players’ grievances, and what their motivations were will always remain sealed, you can be sure. It would not be a huge leap that refunding what little ticket money they’re getting was probably an issue. TV production and clashing with other matches on the next day or day after very well might have as well, though simultaneous games are scheduled for all the last group games as usual.
The story UEFA wanted to tell everyone, so that they might feel somewhat alright about watching a game being restarted that had no business being so, was that it was a group of brave players (which they are) asking to return to the field at the urging of their stricken teammate and UEFA graciously if not hesitantly letting them. What it appears really happened is that UEFA approached a group of shocked and distracted and distraught players, and asked them questions they were in no condition to answer fully, and then turned around and used those essentially coerced answers as impetus to claim the players requested this. All the while misconstruing the words of the actual stricken player from a hospital bed who was waiting to find out why he almost had died 90 minutes earlier.
While it’s nowhere near as important as Eriksen’s health, UEFA very well may have ruined Denmark’s tournament themselves by pushing them back onto the field when they weren’t prepared to play. The Danes’ hopes of advancing were based on getting results against Finland and then Russia, while basically getting a free hit against Belgium. By being essentially coerced into playing through their fog against Finland, if they lose to Belgium they could be out of it by the time they face Russia. Would results have been different if Denmark had been given just one night to try and clear their heads, as well as more time to hear of Eriksen’s improving condition?
There weren’t any good options. But UEFA could have found a good time to present the bad ones, instead of the worst time.