Match report as Christian Eriksen is honoured before and during the game at the Parken Stadium; Yussuf Poulsen fires Denmark ahead inside two minutes; Kevin De Bruyne makes return as a half-time substitute, assisting Thorgan Hazard's equaliser and scoring a sublime winner
Thursday 17 June 2021 20:37, UK
A sensational second-half performance from Kevin De Bruyne inspired Belgium to a 2-1 comeback victory against Denmark, sending them into the last 16.
Much of the pre-match build-up was focused on how Denmark would react after Christian Eriksen's collapse at the Parken Stadium on Saturday, but they quickly took the lead when Yussuf Poulsen fired home inside two minutes.
A pre-planned tribute to Eriksen was superbly executed in the tenth minute as both teams, officials and fans applauded the Denmark No 10, who is recovering at a hospital close to the Copenhagen arena.
The Danes should have doubled their lead during the first half too as world No 1 side Belgium looked lethargic across the field.
But Roberto Martinez unleashed his not-so-secret weapon at half-time when De Bruyne came on for Dries Mertens, having been among the substitutes after recovering from a facial injury sustained in the Champions League final. Nine minutes later, he set up Thorgan Hazard for the equaliser.
De Bruyne then volleyed home a sensational effort in the 70th minute to wrap up a second Euro 2020 Group B victory for Belgium and join Italy in the last 16. They will top the group with a draw in their final group game.
Martin Braithwaite hit the crossbar late on for Denmark, but they remain winless at the tournament so far. However, they still have a chance of making the knockout stages as the best of the third-place finishers when they host Russia in their final group game on Monday.
Denmark made the perfect start as Poulsen fired them ahead inside two minutes. Jason Denayer's woeful pass went straight to the feet of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who slotted Poulsen through at the top of the area. To make up for his efforts, Denayer had left the Denmark forward open and it was an easy finish into the far corner, celebrating ecstatically with the home fans.
Denmark continued to push for a second, but as Belgium were building their first attack, the ball was played out by the visitors for a planned minute of applause for Eriksen. Everyone inside the Parken Stadium participated in a heart-warming moment, as banners and shirts with Eriksen's name were held aloft.
Denmark: Schmeichel (7), Wass (7), Christensen (7), Kjaer (7), Vestergaard (6), Maehle (6), Damsgaard (7), Hojbjerg (7), Delaney (7), Poulsen (7), Braithwaite (7).
Subs used: Norgaard (6), Larsen (6), Cornelius (7), Jensen (6), Olsen (n/a).
Belgium: Courtois (7), Alderweireld (6), Denayer (5), Vertonghen (6), Meunier (7), Dendoncker (6), Tielemans (7), T Hazard (7), Mertens (6), Carrasco (6), Lukaku (7).
Subs used: De Bruyne (8), E Hazard (7), Witsel (7), Vermaelen (n/a).
Man of the match: Kevin De Bruyne.
But it was back down to business as the clock ticked into the 11th minute and Denmark continued their dominance. Poulsen was the focal point again, his cross just evading Mikkel Damsgaard in the middle as Thomas Meunier made a vital block. Daniel Wass also sent an effort flying over the bar from range.
Damsgaard was making just his second international start for Denmark, but he almost added the second in the 35th minute. Toby Alderweireld's nervy clearance fell into his path and after some quick feet to breeze through the Belgium players ahead, his eventual shot just dragged wide of the post.
It looked to be much of the same at the start of the second half, but nine minutes after the break and against the run of play, Belgium levelled in superb fashion.
Romelu Lukaku sped away from Jannik Vestergaard, skipped past Simon Kjaer before pulling the ball back for De Bruyne in the middle. He took a touch before squaring for the incoming Thorgan Hazard. It was then a powerful tap-in from the winger in Belgium's first real moment of quality.
From then on, Belgium only got better and De Bruyne capped things off with a sensational goal. Lukaku was the catalyst again in the build-up, moving between defenders on the right wing with ease, before finding Youri Tielemans at the top of the area. He then found Thorgan Hazard, who picked out his brother Eden at the top, and the Real Madrid winger in turn played in De Bruyne. It was then a sublime, driving volley to beat Kasper Schmeichel.
Being behind almost seemed to galvanise Denmark, who had a string of chances to score another in the closing stages. Martin Braithwaite was in the middle of much of the action, testing Thibaut Courtois with a low effort, before failing to capitalise on more sloppy defensive play from Belgium as Andreas Cornelius' cross just evaded him.
The Barcelona forward rattled the crossbar in the 87th minute too. Andreas Skov Olsen stood the ball up for him, but Braithwaite's header pinged off the top of the bar as the game ended in another defeat for Denmark.
Let's make no mistake about it - De Bruyne was the key to Belgium winning this game. Denmark are a far better side than Russia and you would have been forgiven for thinking the Danes were higher in the world rankings than their opponents in the first half.
But De Bruyne, with all his skill and quality, turned the game on its head. His assist for Thorgan Hazard's opener was unselfish and inch-perfect, and his finish for the winner was simply world class. He improved everyone around him and boosted Belgium's confidence.
Credit too must go to Lukaku. He was starved of service in the first half but was the instigator for both goals. Along with De Bruyne, he continues to be one of Belgium's most vital players.
Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand: "We've felt an enormous backing from the people, from all the people following us, this whole stadium and all the people we've met and felt the love from - that's what did it in the end.
"And also that this group is extremely good together. We can take a lot with us from this match. Now we'll close this one. I'm already thinking about the Russians. We are not finished in this tournament."
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez: "It's been a while since we've last been put to the test like this. In the first half, the players seemed shell shocked but they have the experience to turn a game around."
Denmark's final group game is on Monday against Russia, again at the Parken Stadium. Belgium will face Finland at the St Petersburg Stadium. Both games will kick off at 8pm.