Christian Eriksen shines and scores but Denmark held late on by Slovenia

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Christian Eriksen;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Christian Eriksen</a> celebrates his early well-taken goal against Slovenia.</span><span>Photograph: Chris Ricco/UEFA/Getty Images</span>

When Christian Eriksen collapsed in Denmark’s opening game of the European Championship three years ago, his unconscious body surrounded by his teammates as he received CPR, what then would have seemed a reasonable hope for the future? To survive? To lead a relatively normal life? To resume his career? Did anybody in those dreadful moments think he might play at Euro 2024? Even the most optimistic, surely, could not have foreseen a performance quite like this. But brilliant as Eriksen was, his display was not enough to deliver a win for Denmark.

Slovenia, at their first major tournament since 2010, were slightly overawed, as their coach, Matjaz Kek, acknowledged. For them, the final 30 minutes could hardly have been more different from the first 60 and, although there had been times when they had seemed to be ­hanging on, by the time it happened, Erik Janza’s equaliser felt vaguely inevitable.

“Maybe we showed a bit too much respect in the first half,” Kek said, “but then we managed to break ­ourselves free and our play looked a lot better. Deep down I expected we might experience the first half we did. Some of our players have never played in such a big competition. But some players took the first step and when the others saw it was possible they started playing. We set up a different tactic to press more on their midfielders but it was about self‑esteem. They saw this was not an insurmountable mountain.”


There has been a sense in recent months that Eriksen, at 32, is not the player he was. “The Christian Eriksen we all know, he is no longer there,” the former Denmark midfielder Thomas Gravesen said in March. “Christian Eriksen doesn’t play football any more. Christian Eriksen sits on the bench and watches football.” But you don’t have to be playing with an implantable cardioverter ­defibrillator to be sapped by the malaise at ­Manchester United.

Away from the gloom of Old Trafford, Eriksen rediscovered the old dazzle. “For me he’s a great player,” said the Denmark coach, Kaspar Hjulmand, “and I’ve never had any doubts.” Deployed behind Jonas Wind and Rasmus Højlund, he ­revelled in what was in effect a free role, regularly dropping deep, constantly ­probing, threatening with his set plays and steering home the opener after 17 minutes when Wind flicked a throw-in into his path. “Nothing was on my mind but the football,” said Eriksen who, in his good-humoured way, is clearly weary of talking about his cardiac arrest and recovery.

Slovenia, since abandoning dark green for being too associated with Olimpija Ljubljana, one of the country’s two biggest clubs, have adopted white and a variety of pale greenish blues and bluish greens; the sort of shade that might be used to persuade you a toothpaste or a chewing gum is minty fresh. Against the swathes of Danish red the effect was unfortunate, as though to be in the stadium was to be in a vast mouth, the gums inflamed and bleeding.

Before kick-off, the two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar appeared on the big screen to wish Slovenia good luck, which against pretty much any other opponent might have gone unnoticed. The Danes, though, responded with ­booing and chants for their own reigning Tour de France champion, Jonas Vingegaard. Denmark’s good luck message was delivered by the singer Malte Ebert, who appears not to have a burning rivalry with any Slovenian musician.

Two years ago, Vingegaard surged clear of Pogacar in the mountains. Last year he took a minute out of him in the time trial on stage 16. But on Sunday, the Danes never quite managed to break Slovenia.

For all their domination, all their neat patterns, Denmark struggled to create clear openings and that always generates anxiety. As Jan Oblak made a fine smothering save to deny Højlund as he slid onto a Wind cross 20 minutes after half-time, the thought that it was the sort of thing that might prove vital seemed to grip the stadium.

“Sometimes,” Hjulmand said, “when you’re 1-0 in front and you don’t score the second goal something happens.”

Within six ­minutes, Adam Gnezda Cerin, ­arriving unmarked on an Andraz Sporar cross, had headed wide. Sporar nodded a left-wing free-kick into the wide netting. Benjamin Sesko smacked a bouncing ball against a post.

For 65 minutes Slovenia had done nothing then suddenly they were counterpunching with thrilling intensity. Denmark wobbled. The equaliser arrived with 13 minutes remaining, a corner skipping through the box to Janza. The Gornik Zabrze left-back has scored only 10 league goals in a 14-year career but as the ball bounced into his stride, his drive flicked off Morten Hjulmand’s backside and past a wrong-footed Kasper Schmeichel.

Both sides, now, can think qualification is a real possibility but for Eriksen it wasn’t quite the fairytale return to the European Championship it had seemed it might be.

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