‘Out of this world’: Delightful De Bruyne returns to down Denmark in emotional Euro 2020 encounter in Copenhagen
Kevin De Bruyne made an instant impact on his return from injury with an inspired second-half cameo to steer Belgium past Denmark and into the Euro 2020 knockout stages on an emotional day in Copenhagen.
Returning for the first time after facial surgery for the fractures he suffered in the Champions League final at the end of May, second-half substitute De Bruyne was inspired as he set up an equalizer for Thorgan Hazard before blasting home a winner as Belgium recovered from Yussuf Poulsen’s early goal to win 2-1 at Parken Arena.
The turnaround after Poulsen’s strike after just two minutes will largely be attributed to De Bruyne’s introduction by Roberto Martinez at the start of the second half, as the Manchester City playmaker first laid on Hazard with a delightful touch and pass in the 54th minute, before rifling home a goal of his own 16 minutes later to complete the comeback for the Belgians.
The win for Martinez’s men means they have two wins from two in their Group B matches and are assured of a spot in the last 16, while Denmark – for whom it was an emotional first match after the cardiac arrest suffered by midfielder Christian Eriksen against Finland on Saturday – remain pointless from their two games and are staring at an early exit from the tournament.
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) June 17, 2021
There were emotional scenes before kick-off in front of around 25,000 fans at Parken Arena in the Danish capital, as a giant ‘Eriksen 10’ shirt was unveiled in a show of support to the midfielder, who continues his recovery in hospital after collapsing in the first half of the match with Finland at the weekend.
Once the action got underway, Poulsen gave Denmark the perfect start after just two minutes when he drilled a shot across Courtois and into the bottom corner, following a sloppy pass out from the back by Jason Denayer was seized upon by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
The rapid strike was the second quickest in European Championship history – behind only Dmitri Kirichenko’s effort for Russia against Greece in 2004.
99 – Yussuf Poulsen has scored the second quickest goal in European Championships history, timed at 99 seconds. Only Dmitry Kirichenko for Russia vs Greece at EURO 2004 scored an earlier goal (65 seconds). Thrust. #DEN #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/iv3Ruv3uh0
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 17, 2021
In stark contrast to their compose and clinical showing in their opening game rout against Russia, Belgium appeared shellshocked in Copenhagen as the hosts piled on the pressure.
They gained a brief respite when play was stopped around the 10th minute as a mark of respect for Eriksen, as both sets of players applauded while fans unveiled a banner in support of the midfielder reading: “All of Denmark is with you, Christian.”
But when play resumed Denmark continued to press again while their opponents struggled to get any kind of foothold in the game.
Martinez’s men belatedly began to show more ambition as the half wore on, but at the other end Denmark winger Mikkel Damsgaard steered the ball just left of the upright after a jinking run into the box in the 35th minute.
Denmark skipper Simon Kjaer man-handled Lukaku 10 yards from the outside of the box, but the subsequent free-kick delivery from Yannick Carrasco evaded everyone, summing up a frustrating first half from Belgium.
Barcelona forward Martin Braithwaite had time to skewer a left-footed shot wide of the post but the hosts still headed into the break with a deserved lead, having produced nine shots to the visitors’ one.
The solitary effort in the first 45 minutes was the worst return in an appearance at a major tournament since facing Mexico at the 1986 World Cup.
1 – Belgium attempted only one shot in the first half, their lowest tally before the break in a major tournament game since the World Cup 1986, against Mexico (also 1). Sadness. #EURO2020 #BEL #DEN pic.twitter.com/8guWxzAMa4
— OptaIvan (@OptaIvan) June 17, 2021
Belgium boss Martinez had the returning De Bruyne on the bench, while Eden Hazard was also among the substitutes as he continues to return to full fitness.
It was the Manchester City man whom Martinez initially turned to as he was introduced at half time for Dries Mertens.
Somewhat surprisingly, De Bruyne was without a mask despite many expecting him to be wearing one following surgery for the facial fractures he suffered in the Champions League final at the end of May.
🇧🇪 Де Брейне вернулся на поле после травмы в финале #ЛигаЧемпионов
— УЕФА (@UEFAcom_ru) June 17, 2021
Early in the half, Thomas Delaney drove an effort wide of the Belgian goal when allowed to approach the box unimpeded, and soon after Thomas Meunier directed a header wide at the opposite end when he got on the end of a Youri Tielemans cross.
Belgium did get back into the game soon afterwards, and it was a goal forged by the powerful running of front man Romelu Lukaku and the composed genius of De Bruyne.
Barging his way down the right flank, Lukaku cut the ball back to De Bruye, whose controlled first touch took out two Danish shirts before he squared the ball across the box for a marauding Thorgan Hazard to send into the net.
It was a moment of brilliance so typical of De Bruyne – and showcased just what his team had been missing in his absence during a flat first half.
Axel Witsel was brought into the fray soon after by Martinez – making his first appearance since suffering an Achilles injury in January – while Eden Hazard also appeared as part of a double swap for Carrasco and Leander Dendoncker in the 60th minute.
Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand also made a double change to inject extra energy as Christian Norgaard and Jens Stryger Larsen replaced goalscorer Poulsen and Daniel Wass.
It was now Belgium who were the ones turning the screw with their patient passing game and Denmark were left searching for a route up the pitch.
On an increasingly rare venture into the Belgian box, Denmark thought they had a shout for a penalty when Damsgaard went down, only for the winger to get booked for a blatant dive.
Within moments, Belgium would go ahead thanks to a superbly-crafted team goal which was put away by the effervescent De Bruyne.
After some one-touch interplay on the edge of the Denmark box, De Bruyne arrived to drill home a left-footed shot from the edge of the box. In the space of barely 25 minutes, the 29-year-old had turned the match on its head with an assist and now a goal.
Online, fans and pundits were purring about a player who will be integral to his team’s ambitions of winning the tournament outright.
There are most footballers. And then there’s Kevin de Bruyne.
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) June 17, 2021
Hazard assist, but that De Bruyne goal is absolutely beautiful. People hate this guy just to look special or something but Kevin is out of this world.
— Xav Salazar (@XavsFutbol) June 17, 2021
Kevin De Bruyne’s game by numbers vs. Denmark (45 minutes):
100% dribbles completed (5/5)
2 big chances created
2 shots (2 on target)
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 17, 2021
Denmark weren’t done as Braithwaite forced a low save from Thibaut Courtois, before the Barcelona man the headed onto the woodwork from an Andreas Skov Olsen cross inside the last five minutes.
That was to prove Denmark’s biggest chance as they slipped to a second defeat in two matches in Copenhagen, and will need nothing short of a win against visitors Russia on Monday to stand any chance of sneaking into the last 16.