Denmark’s soccer team returned to the field on Monday, practicing for the first time since the shocking collapse of their teammate Christian Eriksen during a match on Saturday. But the players did so amid growing criticism of the decision to resume the team’s Euro 2020 match just over an hour after Eriksen received lifesaving treatment on the field after his heart stopped.
When the players on Denmark’s team and their opponents from Finland returned to the field on Saturday, it was widely reported that they had chosen to do so.
But the players on Monday disputed that simple explanation, which had been offered by the tournament’s organizer, UEFA, and said they had been put in an impossible position: resume the game that day, or return the next day to complete it.
“We were all about to lose a friend and a teammate,” Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said. “There were lots of players who were unable to play. We were in a bad place. We made the least bad decision.”
Eriksen, one of Denmark’s stars, collapsed on the field late in the first half of a game against Finland at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. He lost consciousness and received treatment on the field, including C.P.R. His teammates were visibly shaken. Several prayed as they stood in a circle to protect Eriksen from view. A few wiped away tears.
Eriksen was removed from the field by stretcher and appeared to be conscious. The game was halted, and there was talk of postponing the evening game between Belgium and Russia as well.
But then, to the surprise of many, it was announced that the game would resume after a two-hour delay. UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, said the decision came “following the request made by players of both teams.” Finland scored on a header in the second half to beat Denmark, 1-0.
But on Monday, Danish players and staff members said the reality was far less straightforward.
“We were put in a position that I personally feel that we shouldn’t have been put in,” goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said.
“It probably required that someone above us had said that it was not the time to make a decision and maybe should wait for the next day,” he added.
Braithwaite said: “We had two choices from UEFA: to go out and play the match immediately or play the next day at noon. None of those choices were good. We took the lesser of two evils.”
Coach Kasper Hjulmand said the team had decided that facing the prospect of returning the next day was unworkable.
“The players couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep tonight and then having to get on the bus and come in again tomorrow,” Hjulmand told reporters after Saturday’s game. “Honestly it was best to get it over with.”
Peter Schmeichel, the former Denmark goalkeeper and the father of Kasper, disputed UEFA’s characterization that the players insisted on playing.
“I know that not to be the truth.” he said on “Good Morning Britain.” “Did they have any choice? I don’t think they had.”
UEFA said the tournament’s tight schedule required a quick resolution. Denmark’s next game was Thursday, but the Finns had to travel to Russia and prepare for a game on Wednesday afternoon.
“UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players,” UEFA said in a statement. “It was decided to restart the match only after the two teams requested to finish the game on the same evening. The players’ need for 48 hours’ rest between matches eliminated other options.”
Eriksen, 29, remained in stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital on Monday. He has spoken with his teammates and was said to be in good spirits, the players said.
“I have no doubt that we’ll see something special at Parken on Thursday,” Braithwaite told reporters. “Not just from the players but from the entire crowd. That’s something I look forward to. And I’m sure I will use it as motivation to go out and play for Christian.”