A little after 6pm local time, Christian Eriksen may well expect the windows of his temporary lodgings to start shaking. He can see Parken, Denmark’s national stadium, from his room in Rigshospitalet and one can only imagine how dislocating it must feel to watch thousands of red shirts funnel through the glorious summer heat while his teammates prepare to face Belgium inside. On the off chance he could not hear the fans before, their noise will resonate loud and clear in the 10th minute of the game: play will stop and they will rise as one to acclaim their No 10 in a show of appreciation, love and sheer relief that he is listening at all.
“It is a crazy situation for him to be in,” said Kasper Hjulmand, the Denmark head coach. Eriksen should have been out there doing what he has done since 2010, making his side tick.
Until their world turned upside down on Saturday, Hjulmand had been planning something special on the pitch for this one: Eriksen was to play an unspecified new role, one intended to give the Belgians extra food for thought, that the pair had discussed for a month.
Now nothing will be as expected and the biggest unknown, with the comparative prosaic matter of retaining an interest in Euro 2020 sitting alongside the emotional outpouring, is exactly how everyone makes sense of it all.
Saturday had begun as a carnival. Denmark is newly free of most Covid-19 restrictions and, with flags lining Copenhagen’s most popular thoroughfares, football represented a perfectly timed release. Then came the intake of breath that stopped an entire country in its tracks, Eriksen’s collapse in the 42nd minute against Finland prompting fears of the very worst. The sense of shock was prevalent even when good news about his condition emerged, so Belgium’s visit feels like the moment everyone can exhale as one.
“I know both the players and I are taking some great steps after what happened,” Hjulmand said. “We have more hours with good feelings than bad feelings and we are ready to do our best.”
Denmark opted to train at their base in Helsingor on Wednesday, but Hjulmand offered his players the chance to visit Parken quietly in the evening and take their time to recalibrate; those who found it helpful could travel there by bus to process the scenes and feelings that confronted them at shockingly close quarters, rather than being overwhelmed upon arriving for the Belgium game.
“The reactions will be different from player to player,” said Yussuf Poulsen, the centre-forward. Denmark find themselves in a situation nobody could adequately prepare for.
Yet there is an appetite to get back on track: to make this a joyful occasion both by honouring Eriksen and winning. Over the past couple of days, talk around the camp has centred more willingly on football.
When the squad trained on Monday for the first time since Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, a sombre mood offered little suggestion anyone was ready for a return to normality and it was impossible not to sympathise with the intense frustration felt that Uefa essentially forced them to expose themselves in deciding whether the Finland game resumed. By Tuesday the smiles had begun to return and Hjulmand was at pains to point out that standard preparations – meetings, video clips, training routines – would not be neglected.
The sense is that all bets are off: who could fault Denmark if the occasion simply proved too much, but who would be surprised if they ripped into Belgium and played the game of their lives? This time they will be backed by 25,000 supporters, meaning Parken will be two-thirds full, after an increase from the previous 15,900 was agreed. The sun will be out again; it will be an atmosphere ripe for a happier place in the history books.
Belgium will contribute to it willingly. “A celebration for football and for Christian,” was how Roberto Martínez described the event his players will walk into. Romelu Lukaku said Belgium would kick the ball out if they are in possession when the clock strikes 6.10pm. Eriksen and Lukaku, teammates at Internazionale, have swapped messages. “I told him to take his time and if he wants to talk I am always here,” Lukaku said, explaining he will contact Eriksen again after their teams have met.
In plain football terms, Denmark cannot afford to lose given all three of their Group B rivals have wins to their name. Belgium beat them twice in the Nations League last year and Denmark will find themselves scrapping with Russia and Finland for progression if they cannot reverse that recent trend.
For all the undoubted sincerity of his goodwill, Martínez’s approach will be businesslike; another win would put them in the last 16 and it is a chance to give minutes to Kevin De Bruyne, who has travelled after an improvement in his recovery from a fractured eye socket.
But Belgium are not simply coming up against a football team, their tactics, their structure, things for which they can plot and plan. “We’re not only going to play for Christian,” Hjulmand said. “We’re going to play for who we are, our identity and the whole of Denmark who experienced what happened with us. We’re not done with this tournament.”
If Denmark can master the intangibles, they might not be. Even if that is a step too far, the din that reaches Eriksen’s ears a few hundred metres away will be joyful enough.