It would be fitting if Euros are remembered for acts of human strength


he defining images from major tournaments are almost never from the group stages, let alone the first 24 hours, but nothing at the European Championship will prove as unforgettable as the Denmark players forming a human shield around their stricken talisman Christian Eriksen, or captain Simon Kjaer comforting his teammate’s wife.

In a way, given the circumstances of the delayed tournament and the past 18 months we have all endured, there would be something fitting in Euro 2020 being remembered for acts of human strength and compassion in the face of shocking evidence of our own fragility.

It hardly felt possible to be any more grateful to medical professionals but the incident was another unneeded reminder of the heroism and brilliance of the staff who seem to have saved Eriksen’s life on the pitch.

Kjaer’s quick-thinking in appearing to clear his friend’s airways and the lack of hesitation from English referee Anthony Taylor in calling for assistance are also worthy of high praise, while it was stirring to witness the reaction of the Denmark and Finland supporters at the Parken Stadium.

After Eriksen had left the pitch on a stretcher and the match had been abandoned, the visiting Finland fans chanted “Christian” and Denmark fans replied by shouting “Eriksen”.

And yet Eriksen’s collapse will cast a long and dark shadow over the tournament. For the past year, football has provided a release from the grim life-and-death reality of the pandemic and the Euros was supposed to be another signpost to normality, a hard-earned celebration as the continent begins to re-open.

So to be confronted by the fine line between sickness and health in the midst of one of the opening matches was a gut-punch.

The live scenes broadcast the BBC – which went on longer than was decent and prompted an apology from Gary Lineker – were genuinely shocking and heart-wrenching.

Nothing matters beyond a full and quick recovery by Eriksen, but there are also now uncomfortable questions for the game.

We may never know if what happened was any consequence of the most relentless domestic season in history, including seemingly needless and ill-advised internationals, but it was hard not to wonder about the correlation after news filtered through that Eriksen was stable.

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