Whatever happens from now on, Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest on the pitch will be one of the tournament’s longest lasting memories.
The game controversially resumed after his condition stabilized and the Danes meandered, dazed and exhausted, for a 1-0 loss. “We have been placed in a position that I personally think we should not be placed in,” goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said afterwards. “Probably had someone above us say that now was not the time to make a decision and maybe [it] you have to wait until the next day. “
With a narrow 2-1 loss to Belgium in their second game, they had their work cut out for them to come out of the group stage let alone reach the quarter-finals. In their last two games, however, they’ve gone from a team that seemed ‘elsewhere’ mentally – in the words of forward Martin Braithwaite – to one that seemed intensely focused on the task at hand.
There is no doubt that they were galvanized by their desire to make Eriksen proud, with coach Kasper Hjulmand openly speaking about the emotional resonance of playing in Amsterdam – where Eriksen spent his formative years with Ajax – in the round of 16. 4-0 victory over Wales, following a 4-1 victory over Russia in their last group game.
With eight goals scored in their last two games, they are the tournament’s form in attack. Handsome striker Kasper Dolberg was deadly against Wales, Braithwaite is a danger and Mikkel Damsgaard did a great job replacing Eriksen, but they also have dynamic midfielders in Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and a defense solid led by the imperious Simon Kjær.
Having said that, the Czech Republic have proven to be a very difficult team to break. Muscular in the midfield, menacing on set pieces and with an offensive outlet to Patrik Schick, they were deserved 2-0 against the Netherlands in the last round and conceded only two goals at Euro 2020 until ‘now.
Whoever triumphs in Baku tonight will face Ukraine or England in the semi-finals. So even as he puts the finishing touches on his preparations for the Three Lions trip to the Stadio Olimpico, Gareth Southgate will be following this game with interest.