Schmeichel: Outpouring of support shows ‘the reason I play’

COPENHAGEN — The outpouring of support in the wake of Christian Eriksen’s collapse has shown how soccer can unite an entire country and why it’s so special to play for a national team, Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said Sunday.

Eriksen and the entire Denmark team have received a flood of messages and well-wishes since the midfielder suffered cardiac arrest during the game against Finland at the European Championship.

“It’s always been special to play for your country,” Schmeichel said ahead of Denmark’s last Group B game against Russia on Monday. “But this last week has shown exactly why we sacrifice what we do, spending so much time away from our families, from our children, because this is special. And to see that football can unite a country the way it has the last few days, that’s the reason I play, and I think that’s the reason many of us play.”

Eriksen is recovering with his family after being discharged from the hospital on Friday. He collapsed near the end of the first half against Finland and had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.

Denmark captain Simon Kjaer spoke to media for the first time since that game, having been widely praised for rushing to Eriksen’s aid before the medics arrived and then comforting the midfielder’s partner when she came onto the field while he was getting treatment.

“The way I reacted was the way Kasper and the other players reacted as well, as a unit,” Kjaer said. “It’s wild to look back on, and I’m grateful and proud of the way we’ve handled it all. Our unity has been fundamental for us. It was an evening we will never forget.”

Schmeichel also hailed his teammates for not being afraid to show their emotions in the days that followed and the way they have banded together to re-focus on the tournament.

“When the chips are down and things are really bad, that’s when you really show your true colors,” Schmeichel said. “I think this team showed that the reason we play football to start off with as children, the reason we love this game, it’s not always because of football, it’s because of what football can do and the kind of togetherness it can harvest.”

Denmark could still advance to the round of 16 with a win over Russia, even though it lost to Finland 1-0 after that game resumed and then lost to Belgium 2-1 in a match that was halted after 10 minutes so the whole stadium could pay tribute to Eriksen with a minute’s applause.

“The game the other night, even though it wasn’t a full stadium, you would have never known standing on the pitch that there wasn’t a 100,000 people in there,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that personally.”

Schmeichel also singled out Kjaer for special praise for the way he handled the situation.

“As a captain you have to be genuine. You cannot act, you have to be yourself,” Schmeichel said. “You show who you are. And Simon did just that. He showed how great of a person he is, how amazing a captain he is. He had to be the one looking at everything that was going on. He had the mental capacity to do that, and it requires a supernatural power.”

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