What a shame it would have been if Euro 2020 was robbed of the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne — the Belgian midfielder who was forced to miss the first match of the tournament after getting an elbow to the face from Antonio Rudiger during the Champions League Final late last month.
De Bruyne made his first appearance of Euro 2020 in the second half of Thursday’s emotional match against Denmark — still coming to terms with the traumatic experience of seeing Christian Eriksen collapse on the pitch and go into cardiac arrest on Saturday against Finland — and recorded a goal and an assist to lift Belgium to a 2-1 victory.
The superstar, not to be lost in the moment, understood the gravitas of just playing Denmark in its capital city of Copenhagen, opting not to celebrate a world-class goal in the 70th minute that ultimately was the game-winner.
With Eriksen on the mind of all, Denmark shot out to a dream start just 99 seconds into the match when Yussuf Poulsen scored the second-fastest goal in European Championship history — a low fizzing shot from the right of the box that sped just past the outstretched glove of Thibaut Courtois at the left post.
In the sixth minute, Daniel Wass nearly doubled the Danes’ advantage with a strong header from the center of the box, but Courtois was up to it this time — though the hosts had the world’s top-ranked team out of sorts and on the back foot.
A mandatory break for applause came in the 10th minute, which corresponds with Eriksen’s No. 10 shirt, as fans and players alike displayed their best wishes for the Inter Milan star who was just blocks away recovering in the hospital.
Denmark surprisingly continued to come at Belgium in waves, the favorites either looking sluggish or unable to handle the emotions that came with proceedings.
At halftime, though, manager Roberto Martinez made the all-important adjustment of bringing on the talisman De Bruyne, who played an immediate part in Belgium’s equalizer.
Nine minutes into the second half, Romelu Lukaku barreled down the left wing before finding De Bruyne at the right edge of the box. After a chip that faked out a pair of defenders, he slid the ball over to an onrushing Thorgan Hazard, who sent an easy side-foot effort with the left into a gaping goal.
Shortly after Thorgan’s goal, his brother and Real Madrid star, Eden, joined was called upon as powerful Belgium’s lineup began looking like its normal self — and acting like it.
The 70th minute saw Lukaku go on a winding run from the goal line, out to the right-wing while weaving through the Denmark defense before working it back toward the middle of the field through Youri Tielemans. After two quick passes at the edge of the box, it was rolling toward De Bruyne, who made no mistake of cannoning a low shot into the back of the net to put the Belgians ahead.
Denmark attempted to will things back in their favor as they re-upped their attack, coming tantalizingly close in the 87th minute when Martin Braithewaite’s header struck the crossbar — a relief to Courtois who was rooted to his spot.
The victory gives Belgium the lead in Group B with six points ahead of Russia and Finland and secures their spot in the Round of 16. Meanwhile, Denmark will need to beat Russia on Matchday 3 and hope Belgium defeats Finland to guarantee a place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020.