Denmark, playing with all the verve and commitment that comes with paying tribute to a fallen talisman, played just about the perfect first half against No. 1-ranked Belgium on Thursday. Then Roberto Martínez pulled out his trump card and it became apparent why Belgium is ranked as the best team in the world.
Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City’s dynamic midfielder who left the Champions League Final with facial fractures to his nose and eye on May 29, made his triumphant return to the pitch with 45 minutes that nearly singlehandedly turned the match on its head as Belgium rallied for a 2-1 victory in Group B on Thursday in Copenhagen.
De Bruyne completely changed the direction of the match, assisting on the equalizer and scoring the winner after missing Belgium’s Euro-opening win over Russia on Saturday. Despite being the reason Belgium came back to win, he refused to celebrate his go-ahead goal out of respect for Christian Eriksen, a sign of the class the man possesses on and off the pitch.
Denmark vs Belgium Highlights (Euro 2020 Group Stage)
The 10th-ranked Danes had a dream start in Copenhagen, taking a second-minute lead before play was halted to honor Christian Eriksen 10 minutes in. Eriksen, the Denmark No. 10, collapsed unconscious during his country’s Euro 2020 opener against Finland on Saturday, suffering cardiac arrest and being saved by a defibrillator and CPR reviving him. Resting and recovering at a hospital not far from Parken Stadium, Eriksen likely heard the roar as Denmark took the lead through Yussuf Poulsen less than two minutes in.
On 10 minutes, the ball was played out to observe a minute of applause for Eriksen, an emotional moment that transcended sport.
Mikkel Damsgaard, the 20-year-old who replaced Eriksen in the Danish lineup, was superb in the first half, helping Denmark create more chances than Belgium on the day. (The stout defending of Simon Kjær, Jannik Vestergaard and Andreas Christensen certainly helped in that regard.) His influenced waned in the second half, picking up a yellow card for simulation and being subbed off with 18 minutes to play.
The match changed when Belgium coach Martínez introduced de Bruyne at halftime. The playmaker regained control of the match for the visitors, starting with an assist for Thorgan Hazard within nine minutes of coming onto the pitch.
Kevin de Bruyne Assist vs Denmark
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) June 17, 2021
With the match finely poised, KDB made his biggest contribution of the day. After a lovely bit of play from Belgium, the ball was eventually worked to de Bruyne, who first-timed a left-footed shot inside the near post for the winner. (Despite not recording a goal or assist, Romelu Lukaku played pivotal roles in both goals after paying tribute to Eriksen with a goal celebration on Saturday.)
Kevin de Bruyne Goal vs Denmark
De Bruyne began to celebrate before catching himself and showing respect for Eriksen and the tens of thousands of Danes in the stands.
KDB nearly had another assist in the closing minutes, but Thomas Meunier’s long-range effort with Kasper Schmeichel out of the net was blocked. Regardless, de Bruyne’s impact was evident. His introduction flipped the match into Belgium’s favor, playing a key role in both goals.
| FOCUSKevin De Bruyne vs Denmark:
⏱️ 45' played
⚽️ 1 goal
2 shots/2 on target
️ 1 assist
2 big chances created
3/4 acc. long balls
5/5 succ. dribbles
8.9 SofaScore rating
— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) June 17, 2021
When the final whistle blew, players on both clubs embraced each other, well aware that the importance of the match paled in comparison to the news earlier this week that Eriksen is alive and well after such a harrowing collapse on Saturday.