DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Denmark has been here before.
The Danes face a tense, must-win game at the World Cup to make it through to the knockout stage, similar to what they needed to do at last year’s European Championship.
In fact, it was much worse at Euro 2020 when Denmark lost its first two games while the squad was still trying to cope with the trauma of teammate Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest on the field in the first match against Finland.
All seemed lost. But Denmark beat Russia 4-1 in its final group game using Eriksen as an inspiration, qualified on goal difference, and made it all the way to the semifinals.
“We definitely carry that with us,” Denmark forward Andreas Cornelius said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to defending champion France at the World Cup left Denmark needing to beat Australia in the last set of Group D games to advance.
Eriksen is back with Denmark at the World Cup and playing at a major international tournament for the first time since that day in Copenhagen, when a country and much of the soccer world watched on in horror as he lay lifeless on the field. Medics used a defibrillator to restart his heart and save his life.
Cornelius was a substitute and sitting on the bench when Eriksen collapsed. While terrible at the time, that experience has molded this Denmark team and has given it the resilience it will need against an upbeat Aussie team, he said.
“Many things happened in the Euros,” Cornelius said. “The first game and all that. And then we came back and made it to the knockout games. It doesn’t really matter how you get through, just as long we get through.”
The task at the World Cup doesn’t seem as desperate. Australia, which has three points, can advance with only a draw while Denmark, with one point, needs to win to have the chance to make it to the last 16. The Danes could still go out on goal difference if France is surprised by Tunisia.
With that decisive Australia game in mind, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand got all his players together in a big circle in the center of the field after the loss to France at Stadium 974 and spoke to them.
“I think it’s important that we look each other in the eyes. Especially when you lose,” Hjulmand said. “It’s something we always do, win or lose. Now, the case is clear. We must win the (Australia) match and we focus on that.”
And Eriksen, Denmark’s key midfield playmaker, is back with his team and ready to help.
“We had zero points in the first two games at the Euros,” Hjulmand said. “We still have hope.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports