England is shouldering rising expectations. Denmark is powered by resilience and recovery.
And emotions will be high at Wembley Stadium before their European Championship semifinal match even kicks off Wednesday when there will be a moment to remember the tournament’s most harrowing incident and the player who won’t be playing for Denmark.
The England squad has signed a No. 10 jersey emblazoned with Christian Eriksen’s name that will be handed to Denmark captain Simon Kjaer by England counterpart Harry Kane.
The England players were on a bus traveling to London from their training base to prepare for their opening game of Euro 2020 on June 12 when Eriksen collapsed on the field while playing against Finland. He had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.
“We saw it on the screens,” said England defender Kieran Trippier, a former teammate of Eriksen’s at Tottenham. “I was close with Christian. The most important thing is he is getting better."
Perhaps what is most remarkable is that while Eriksen recovers from his cardiac arrest, Denmark has managed to reach the semifinals for the first time since unexpectedly winning the European Championship in 1992.
“These last four weeks have been the emotions of a lifetime,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “We’ve been facing death in a way I never hoped I should.”
After losing the opening two games — including the Finland match that resumed that day — the Danes looked on the verge of elimination. But they got used to the formation switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3 and beat Russia in their final group game to advance before ousting Wales and the Czech Republic to set up the meeting with England.
Kasper Dolberg has scored three goals, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been excellent in midfield and Kasper Schmeichel has provided leadership even beyond his saves in goal.
“With everything that we’ve been going through from the first game to where we are now is quite remarkable,” Denmark midfielder Christian Norgaard said. “We had to pinch ourselves in the arms sometimes to realize what we’ve achieved.”
That, to some degree, was the sense in the England squad at the 2018 World Cup when the team reached the semifinals despite little being expected of them under coach Gareth Southgate.
Now that they are back in another semifinal — having also lost in the last four of the inaugural UEFA Nations League — there is a sense that England has to deliver in a way it hasn’t since last reaching a final at the 1966 World Cup.
“We’ve made a real good progression over the years,” Trippier said. "I spoke to some of the younger lads before the tournament and said, ‘Have no fears. Enjoy it because they are only around every couple of years these tournaments.’”
The foundation of England’s progress at Euro 2020 has been in defense with no goals conceded in five games, only one of which has been played away from Wembley — Saturday’s 4-0 rout of Ukraine in Rome.
Trippier said moving to Atletico Madrid and being guided by Diego Simeone has helped to improve him as a defender. A career that was waning in the year after the last World Cup is flourishing again with Trippier winning the Spanish title and now hoping for a first England title, too.
“Simeone makes sure you defend first and foremost. If not you will know about it in the dressing room,” Trippier said. “I have had to fight for a lot in my career, with so many setbacks. It’s about bouncing back and challenging yourself. I have had to overcome so much. I have been left out of England squads. I have had to move countries. People saying it was a mistake to play abroad.
“For me, I’m one of those people who likes to go in the deep end. Doesn’t bother me. It was an opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands."