Denmark players criticize Euro officials who made them play so soon after Christian Eriksen's collapse

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TOPSHOT - Denmark's players react as paramedics attend to Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen after he collapsed on the pitch during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FRIEDEMANN VOGEL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Denmark players, many of them emotional, formed a circle around Christian Eriksen as he received medical treatment after his collapse during a Euro 2020 match on Saturday. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)

Denmark players, coaches and soccer legends have criticized officials for forcing them to resume their Euro 2020 opener so soon after they witnessed their teammate, Christian Eriksen, collapse on the field.

Eriksen "was gone" and resuscitated by CPR late in the first half of Denmark's game against Finland on Saturday. His collapse left players in tears. After Eriksen was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was soon pronounced awake and stable, UEFA, the European soccer governing body, announced that the game would restart at 8:30 p.m. local time, less than two hours after it had been suspended due to the medical emergency.

UEFA, at the time, said the decision was made "following the request made by players of both teams," and reiterated that position in a statement to Yahoo Sports on Monday. But Denmark coaches and players have revealed that they were given two options: to finish the match Saturday night, or resume Sunday at noon local time.

"We had two options. None of the options were good. We took the least bad one," Danish forward Martin Braithwaite said Monday. "There were a lot of players that weren't able to play the match. They were elsewhere [mentally]." 

"We were put in a position which I personally don't think we should have been put in," goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said.

"Looking back," head coach Kasper Hjulmand said Sunday, "it was the wrong thing to make the decision between the two scenarios to the players in this case."

Schmeichel added: "It probably required that someone above us [say] that it was not the time to make a decision, and maybe should wait for the next day."

UEFA defends decision to resume match

In response to questions from Yahoo Sports, a UEFA spokesperson did not deny that the players had been given those two options. "The players’ need for 48 hours’ rest between matches eliminated other options," the spokesperson said. Denmark's next match, against Belgium, is scheduled for Thursday.

Three other games were also scheduled for Sunday, and the alternate option given to Denmark's players – to restart their match Sunday at noon – would've avoided television conflicts. The first of three Sunday matches kicked off at 3 p.m. Copenhagen time.

Many fans have ripped UEFA for handling the situation insensitively. Some Danish players were still struggling emotionally when they returned to the field for warmups Saturday night.

"Players were in a shock condition – players who didn't really know yet if they had lost their best friend," Hjulmand, the coach, said Sunday. "And they have to decide between these two things."

Former Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, father of current goalkeeper Kasper, told the BBC on Sunday: "It's a ridiculous decision by UEFA. They should have tried to work out a different scenario and shown a little bit of compassion, and they didn't.

"There is no way that game should have been played [Saturday] night," Peter Schmeichel continued. "Not one player on that pitch was in the right mindset to be playing a game of football."

Michael Laudrup, widely considered the greatest Denmark player ever, told a Danish TV station: "When such things happen, you are in the throes of your emotions, and you do not have the capacity and oversight to make important decisions."

Hjulmand, the Denmark coach, said Sunday: "Maybe we should have just gone on to the bus and gone home and let's see what the next days would have brought."

The UEFA spokesperson told Yahoo Sports: "UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players."

Peter Schmeichel gave another interview Monday in which he said that Denmark's third option – if players chose not to finish the match Saturday or Sunday – would have been to "forfeit the game and lose 3-0."

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"So work it out for yourself," Peter Schmeichel said on Good Morning Britain. "Is it the players' wish to play? Did they have any choice, really? I don't think they had."

UEFA, in a second statement to Yahoo Sports, "categorically den[ied] that either team was threatened with a forfeit," but didn't say what would've happened if Danish players had refused to play Saturday or Sunday.

Denmark players give Eriksen updates

In a statement Sunday morning, the Danish soccer federation said that players and staff were receiving "crisis assistance" and "will continue to be there for each other after yesterday's incident." Hjulmand, at a Sunday news conference, said: "We will try tomorrow to establish normality as much as is possible. Players have different kinds of shocks and traumas and emotions."

Denmark lost Saturday's match to Finland, which entered as a heavy underdog, on a goal 20 minutes after the restart. As of Monday, Thursday's game against Belgium remains on.

"We will try to use the next couple of days as good as possible," Hjulmand said Sunday. "I will try to get a feeling of the players. Maybe for some, the time is too short to be able to play football again."

Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg said Monday that Eriksen had sent the team a video message from the Copenhagen hospital where he is undergoing further testing. Kasper Schmeichel said that he'd visited Eriksen in the hospital. “It was damn nice to see him smile, and laugh, and be himself, and just feel that he is there," Schmeichel said Monday. "It was a great experience and something that has helped me a lot.”

“We’re still in the tournament," Schmeichel said. "Now, we have to try to see if we can win this and do it for Christian and do it for all the fans who sat with us and were just as powerless in the situation as we were. I have no doubt that this team has the unity, the strength to be able to come together and go out and do something special.”

The Denmark soccer federation said again on Monday that Eriksen is stable and in "good" condition.

And Eriksen himself released a statement through his agent, his first since Saturday: "Thank you, I won’t give up. I feel better now – but I want to understand what’s happened. I want to say thank you all for what you did for me."

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