Euro 2020: De Bruyne enters to spare Belgium’s blushes against Denmark
Kevin De Bruyne's late entry onto the European Championship stage not only turned a beleaguered Belgium into winners over Denmark in Thursday's Group B clash but also underlined the rich resources making them a favourite for the title.
De Bruyne had sat out last weekend's opening game for the top-ranked Belgians, recovering from a double facial fracture as his teammates romped past Russia.
Again on Thursday, he did not start, but came on after halftime with his team losing 1-0 to remind the world of his brilliance. De Bruyne set up one goal and scored another in a 2-1 comeback that secured Belgium's place in the next round.
Reaching into his reservoir of talent, coach Roberto Martinez was also able to bring on Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel as further substitutes to seal the game.
The trio are all still not at full fitness – De Bruyne after having not played for almost three weeks, Hazard after a niggly season at Real Madrid, and Witsel after a horror Achilles tendon injury that nearly ruled him out of the tournament.
It was Witsel's first action since January.
Yet they were able to turn around Belgium’s fortunes in an ominous display of potential, even if still being gently introduced by their coach.
They will likely be in the starting lineup from the round of 16, offering Belgium genuine hope for a first major trophy and posing a frightening prospect to opponents.
Denmark sought to evoke the spirt of Christian Eriksen but the effort of trying to forge victory for their stricken colleague ultimately cost them dear and leaves them needing to beat Russia for a chance of avoiding elimination.
The home side used the collective energy of their pent-up emotions, and a noisy partisan crowd, to score in 99 seconds and then contrive to make Belgium look bewildered and befuddled through a fast and furious first half.
Denmark won almost every challenge, pressed like men possessed and pegged their opponents back as they went into the break in the lead.
Lying in his hospital bed only metres from the stadium, waiting to be fitted with a heart starter device, he would have heard the noise, felt the energy and appreciated the effort.
But there was no way they could keep up the tempo and, drained of energy in the second half, the Danes succumbed as De Bruyne played a perfect pass for the equaliser and then struck home the winner.