After all that’s gone wrong for Denmark at the European Championship, a win over Russia on Monday could still set a long of things right.
Despite two losses — and the emotional trauma of Christian Eriksen’s collapse — Denmark could still finish second in Group B with a victory over the Russians at Parken Stadium.
The Danes also need top-ranked Belgium to beat Finland in a game played at the same time. In that case, Denmark, Russia and the Finns would all finish on three points and second place would be decided by head-to-head goal difference between the three. Belgium has won both of its games so far.
The top two teams in each of the six groups advance automatically to the round of 16, along with four best third-place teams.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand pointed out that Portugal finished its group with three points in 2016 — albeit after three draws — before going on to win the tournament.
“After three games they had three points. And they became European champions. So we believe,” Hjulmand said.
Russia likely only needs a draw to advance and showed vast improvement in a win over Finland after losing to Belgium 3-0. Goalkeeper Matvei Safonov, who replaced Anton Shunin for the Finland game, is expected to keep his starting spot after becoming a father this week.
Russia has looked shaky defensively and is still waiting for leading striker Artem Dzyuba to get off the mark in this tournament. But even though Russia can settle for a draw, Hjulmand didn’t expect the visitors to play passively.
“They can really play football,” Hjulmand said. “It’s not going to be a game where they just sit back and wait. They can do things with the ball and are really good when they hit their level.”
Denmark is also hoping the atmosphere at Parken Stadium will give it the advantage. The crowd of 25,000 was raucous and loud against Belgium and helped the Danes take an early lead before the game stopped after 10 minutes so the whole stadium could pay tribute to Eriksen with a minute’s applause.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez acknowledged that the atmosphere at Parken left his team “shell shocked” in the first half.
Eriksen was discharged from the hospital on Friday after suffering cardiac arrest during the Finland game. And while the Russia game is not expected to feature the same kind of in-game tribute to Eriksen, Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite has urged the crowd to create a similar atmosphere.
“We’re going to need the same amount of support on Monday,” he said.
Russia, meanwhile, is unhappy that many of its fans may not be able to attend the game because they have to self-isolate when arriving in Denmark. The Russian embassy in Copenhagen accused the Danes of “double standards and Russophobia” after plenty of Finnish and Belgian fans attended the first two games.
On the field, Denmark knows it has to take better advantage of its chances this time. The Danes outshot Finland 23-1 in their first game and had 22 total attempts against Belgium, but have only scored one goal.
“It goes without saying we should have converted some of those chances,” Hjulmand said. “We should have won the first game. Against Belgium we delivered a fantastic performance. Now we have to go out and get a win. … If we step on the gas pedal in the same way again, the Russians will have to be very good to keep us at bay.”