Denmark vs Belgium preview: Danes desperate to stun Red Devils
Group B: Denmark vs Belgium, kick-off 5pm (UK time, ITV)
Christian Eriksen will provide a source of motivation as Denmark look to secure their first points of Euro 2020 against Belgium.
The Danes’ No10 and talisman was carried from the field shortly before half-time of their Group B opener after suffering a cardiac arrest.
It was a shocking incident that didn't just affect Eriksen's compatriots, with Belgium star and Inter Milan team-mate Romelu Lukaku paying tribute to his friend by shouting “Chris, I love you” into the camera after scoring later that day.
Now Denmark face a Belgium side with one foot in the knockout stages, knowing that some kind of result is needed if they are to give themselves the best possible chance of progression.
Story so far
Belgium were devastating in qualification and carried that form into the finals, trouncing Russia 3-0 in their first group match.
Lukaku bagged a brace either side of a goal from first-half sub Thomas Meunier, throwing down the gauntlet to the other Euro hopefuls.
For Denmark, football understandably took a backseat in their tournament opener against Finland after Eriksen’s collapse and the harrowing scenes which followed.
The Danes were beaten 1-0 by the debutants, passing up the chance to level when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg saw his penalty saved — a spot-kick Eriksen would ordinarily have taken.
Already Belgium’s all-time top scorer with 62 goals, Lukaku quickly underlined his Golden Boot credentials against Russia.
The Inter star will have his eye on the top scorer mantle after ending the 2018 World Cup as the third-highest scorer and wasted no time against Russia, pouncing on an early mistake for his first before clinically finishing below the keeper late on.
Two seasons working under Antonio Conte have restored Lukaku's reputation and last season's 24-goal haul in Serie A saw him finish runner-up to Cristiano Ronaldo in the race to be capocannoniere.
Speaking earlier this season, Lukaku was full of praise for the former Chelsea boss’ impact on his career.
He said: “Conte has improved me in all ways. Thanks to the coach I understood who I am, it’s the first thing that needs to be understood.
“I knew that he and Inter were the best choice from the first training session and I gave 100% from the beginning.”
The prodigal son
The Danes will need keeper Kasper Schmeichel to be at his best if they are to resist Lukaku and the rest of Belgium’s potent attack.
The Leicester stopper didn’t make a save against Finland in Denmark’s Group B opener — conceding the only effort the Fins conjured up.
But it'll be a different story this evening and, given his shot stopping and distribution mark him out as one of the Premier League’s best keepers, Schmeichel, 33, will relish the chance to shine on the big stage.
And he will still dream of following in dad Peter’s footsteps by winning the European Championships, 29 years after the Danish side of 1992 stunned Europe.
Speaking recently, he said: “You’ve got to dream big … and the question we’ve got to ask ourselves is ‘Why not us?’”
Stick or twist
Danish coach Kasper Hjulmand uses a 4-2-3-1 formation for the most part but deployed a 4-3-3 in his side’s loss to Finland.
Now Hjulmand will have to decide whether to stick or twist.
Despite mustering 22 shots in that game, Denmark were undone by Finland's solitary attempt in the game.
And finding a way to play without Eriksen — the player who orchestrates their midfield — will present a challenge for Hjulmand, who introduced Mathias Jensen in place of his talisman in Copenhagen.
Up front, Yussuf Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite, who play either side of Jonas Wind, will have to step up their game if Denmark are to prolong their stay.
For Belgium, wing-back Timothy Castagne joined Kevin De Bruyne in the treatment room after also fracturing his eye socket on matchday one.
But the Red Devils' strength in depth is such that Borussia Dortmund wing-back Meunier came on in his place to score and assist in the Russian rout.
The former Paris Saint-Germain defender was a menace throughout that win, with Belgium focusing a lot of their play down the right-hand side while Dries Mertens tucked in to bolster the midfield.
If Denmark can catch the 29-year-old out of position and spring Braithwaite in behind, it could be a useful avenue of attack.
While Denmark will want to do it for Eriksen, don’t expect the rampant Red Devils to show any mercy.