Monday, June 14 2021

Dive In

Pretty much her last words were just enjoy, just try to win a Grand Slam. I know from somewhere she is looking after me. I just really miss her.

That’s French Open winner, 25-year-old Barbora Krejcikova, paying an emotional tribute to her coach Jana Novotna—who died of cancer in 2017. The unseeded Krejcikova must really have a guardian angel because she then went on to win the women’s doubles trophy as well—within 24 hours of claiming her first Grand Slam title. FYI: Novak Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas—after being two sets down—to claim the men’s singles title. He is now the only male player of the modern era to have won every Grand Slam tournament twice.

Big Story

The day when football held its breath

The TLDR: On Saturday, Denmark’s star footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed in the middle of a Europa Cup game. The heart-stopping moment sparked tears, fear and a moment of unprecedented unity—reminding us all why football is beautiful. 


Remind me about the Europa...

The Europa League is held once every four years—and was postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the pandemic. It runs for exactly one month: June 11 to July 11—and its matches will be played in 11 cities spread across 11 European countries. Teams are divided into six groups—and the top two teams from each group, plus four best third-place finishers progress to the round-of-16 phase.


This year’s tournament was supposed to herald the return of ‘normal’—but most of the matches will be played in stadiums that are no more than a quarter full. And unlike past years, no fans will travel from one venue to another, following their team. 


Point to note: The tournament is still called Europa 2020 because the Union of European Football Associations—as the New York Times dryly notes—“had printed tickets that said Euro 2020. They had commissioned merchandise. They had a website. You can’t just change a website, you know.” 


I don’t really know Eriksen 🙈 ...

The 29-year old is midfielder who started out at the Dutch team Ajax, and made his career at the English club Tottenham Hotspur. He has represented his country 108 times—which is no mean achievement—and scored 36 goals over 11 years in professional football. In 2020, despite being “one of the most engaging, and most affectionately recalled overseas recruits,” he left the Spurs to join the Italian club Inter Milan. The Guardian writes:


“Eriksen is… never a flashy player, and without gratuitous movements or flourishes, but relentlessly productive, able to find tiny pockets of space, his game marked by clarity, vision and compete immersion in the team.”


Self-effacing, widely liked and a consummate team player, Eriksen was nicknamed The Maestro.


Ok, so what happened on Saturday?

The collapse: Denmark was playing Finland in Copenhagen in its opening Europa match. During the 43rd minute of the game—just before halftime—Eriksen simple collapsed in the middle of the field.


The initial moments: Players from both sides rushed over. But the actions taken by Denmark captain Simon Kjær were critical. Kjaer turned Eriksen on his side, making sure his neck wasn't compromised and his airways were clear, before administering CPR—even as the medical staff scrambled to get on the field. As they worked to save Eriksen’s life, distraught team members immediately formed a circle around him to protect against intrusive cameras. The image has since become an iconic symbol of team loyalty:


A near-death experience: Eriksen suffered from a massive cardiac arrest—and his heart actually stopped for a few moments. The Danish team’s doctor later said


"He was gone, and we did cardiac resuscitation. It was a cardiac arrest. How close were we [to losing Eriksen]? I don't know. We got him back after one defibrillator, so that's quite fast.”


According to the doctor, what saved Eriksen’s life is the fact that he was in the middle of a game—with the best medical team and equipment on hand: “That was completely decisive, I think...The time from when it happens to when he receives help is the critical factor, and that time was short. That was decisive.”


A quick comeback: Eriksen was conscious by the time he left the stadium. The football world held its breath until it saw this photo:


He later spoke from the hospital to the team manager Kasper Hjulmand, who said: “He said ‘I don’t remember much but I’m more concerned about you guys. How are you doing?’... That’s typical Christian. … It was good to see him smile.”


The love: Of course, many players sent their love and prayers: Watch his Inter Milan teammate Romelu Lukaku dedicate his first goal against Russia to Eriksen. And social media was ablaze with messages of alarm and later relief. But the moment of true love and unity that stood out was after Eriksen was taken off the field—and before his fate was known. Finnish fans chanted ‘Christian’ in unison, while the Danes responded ‘Eriksen’. 


The match: Both teams came back to the field on the very same day to finish the game. According to the team manager Hjulmand, the players were given two options by UEFA: to play on or to return at 2 pm on Sunday: 


“There was no pressure from UEFA to play tonight… We knew we had two options. The players couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep tonight and then having to get on the bus and come in again tomorrow. Honestly it was best to get it over with.”


Some of the players opted not to participate—in tears as they warmed up for the game. They were given the freedom to make up their own mind. Denmark lost 1-0. Hjulmand later said:


“Players were in a shock condition. Players who didn't really know yet if they had lost their best friend. And they have to decide between these two things. And I have a sense that we shouldn't have played… Maybe we should have just gone on to the bus and gone home and let's see what the next day would have brought.”


Do we know why this happened?


In today’s edition

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