COPENHAGEN (AP) — After all that's gone wrong for Denmark at the European Championship, a win over Russia on Monday could still set a lot 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.
“I think we go into the game with the mentality that we have to get there,” Denmark captain Simon Kjaer said. “After everything that we’ve been through I think we deserve it.”
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.
“It's like our Euro starts now,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said.
Hjulmand also 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, while Monaco midfielder Alexander Golovin also acknowledged that his performances haven't contributed enough to the stat sheet so far.
“I’ve got to score goals, give assists and help the team more in those aspects,” Golovin said. "But overall I’d say everything else is good.”
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, the Danes are counting on the home support to give them a lift.
“The support we got the other day was the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced," Kjaer said. "It was a special night, and I had never experienced Parken like that. I also hope we’re going to have the same kind of support tomorrow.”
Russia, meanwhile, is unhappy that most of its fans will not be able to attend the game because pandemic restrictions require them 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.
“Of course it’s a shame that our supporters won’t be able to be at the stadium. In some ways it isn’t fair,” Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said. “But on the other hand the situation around the globe isn’t very straightforward.”
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.
“We have created so many chances. All the stats look like (we should have) six points, and we have zero. So we have to deserve it,” Hjulmand said. “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.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Mattias Karén, The Associated Press