COPENHAGEN : With their qualification for the World Cup finals, Denmark showed they have continued to rise in the wake of Christian Eriksen's heart attack and the near-tragedy has not derailed their impressive development under coach Kasper Hjulmand.
Denmark booked their spot at next year's tournament in Qatar with a 1-0 victory over Austria on Tuesday that left them seven points clear of second-placed Scotland at the summit of Group F and their progress is all the more remarkable given what happened in June.
When playmaker Eriksen collapsed to the turf at the Parken Stadium in their Euro 2020 opener against Finland, it was clear to everyone in the stadium and the watching millions that the player's life was in danger.
Thankfully, rapid intervention by team mates and medical staff ensured Eriksen survived, but for most observers the idea that the team could possibly thrive in his absence seemed absurd.
How wrong they were.
Hjulmand gathered his shaken squad and somehow, they picked themselves up to make the knockout phase of Euro 2020 by the skin of their teeth.
They then ripped up the script and tore their way through to the semi-finals, where they narrowly lost to England before receiving a hero's welcome on their return to Copenhagen.
The wave of emotion did not stop there, and they continued to ride it through an incredible World Cup qualifying campaign, full of scintillating attacking football backed by an unbreachable defence.
In Eriksen's absence the world has learned the names of Mikkel Damsgaard, the mercurial playmaker who replaced him, and winger Andreas Skov Olsen as Hjulmand's faith in his young creative talents allowed them to flourish.
But the cornerstone has been the rock at the centre of the Danish defence - captain Simon Kjaer.
His handling of the incident that almost claimed the life of his close friend Eriksen won praise from around the world, and his performances for club and country earned him a spot on the shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award.
Kjaer's booming penalty in their win over Moldova on Saturday - only his fifth goal in 116 appearances for the national side - appeared to draw a line under a turbulent and emotional time for both himself and his team as they closed in on qualification for Qatar.
Having come through an extraordinary trial by fire, Denmark will finish 2021 as one of the teams of the year and begin looking forward to 2022, when they will again measure themselves against the best of the world.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Toby Davis)