Everybody knows who the favourites for this summer’s World Cup are, and it is hard to see one of them not going on to win it in Moscow next month. Germany are chasing a second successive crown and a record-equalling fifth in all, while Brazil are aiming for a sixth World Cup win. Spain, despite their managerial situation, are expected to challenge again; France have a squad brimming with youth and quality, so it could be their year.
Some teams have world class players leading them, but cannot back them up with sufficient quality elsewhere on the pitch to go far into the tournament. Euro ‘92 winners Denmark have previous in springing surprises, but as the World Cup goes with form more often than not, they are not expected to make too many waves in Russia. Arguably France’s biggest test in Group C, the Danes will hope Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen can shine, starting against South American qualifiers Peru at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on Saturday.
Eriksen is not the only threat for Denmark, but he is the man who makes an organised, hard-working team tick. At a tough moment in the playoffs against the Republic of Ireland, after a 0-0 draw in the first leg at home, he stepped up and took responsibility by scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 win in Dublin to book his side’s place this summer. The Spurs man is linked with a move to Real Madrid and Barcelona, which is a sure-fire mark of quality; he will give Denmark a chance in all three group games, particularly their first, which is viewed as crucial in the battle to join France in the last 16. Peru are at the World Cup for the first time since 1982 and have been boosted by the availability of their record goalscorer, Paulo Guerrero, who had his suspension for drug-taking lifted so he could take part this summer. He, like Eriksen, is a talismanic figure, but he must prove his fitness quickly if he is to make the impact he is capable of.
For Denmark, failing to get out of the group willl be seen as a failure; they have the spine of a talented side, with a strong defence protecting Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City’s goalkeeper and son of the legendary Peter. Andreas Christensen, who broke into the Chelsea side under Antonio Conte last season, will partner captain Simon Kjaer at the back. Up front, former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, who has an impressive record at international level despite being seen as a figure of comedy for much of his career, is not in the squad; Kasper Dolberg could be their breakout star after a superb rise at Ajax, while Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jorgensen, linked with a move to Newcsalte United in January, is another option for manager Age Hareide. Red Bull Leipzig striker Yussuf Paulsen has scored just four goals in 28 appearances for Denmark, but he can give the side a focal point; so many attackining options can lead them to a crucial early victory.
But, whatever happens, Eriksen will be at the heart of it. At Tottenham, he is one of a number of key players in their system, which relies on high pressure and intensity, under Mauricio Pochettino, but he is the centrepiece of this Denmark team, the man who sets the tempo and dictates the game. It will be tough for them to break down Peru; they are organised and keep things tight in defence, scoring 26 goals and conceding 27 in qualification. Denmark can win this game in midfield; one of the biggest assets Eriksen brings to the team is his work-rate, and alongside Ajax’s Lasse Schone, he can dominate the centre of the park. Defensive strength, creativity and goalscoring prowess aren’t an issue, but they do lack pace, which means Celta Vigo winger Pione Sisto, who came to prominance in the under-21 European Championships back in 2015, has a crucial part to play in the side.
It will be important for Denmark to win both of their games, against Peru and Australia, before facing France on matchday three. That way, their progression to the next round will be all but guaranteed; Les Bleus are overwhelming favourites to win this group, but they cannot underestimate Denmark because of the strength they have across the pitch.
Hareide’s men can’t look too far ahead, though; a professional job should see them beat an inconsistent Peru. They won eight and lost eight of their games in qualification, and although it is impressive that they edged out Copa America winners Chile, there are definite weaknesses that can be exposed, mainly in the centre of the park. If Christian Eriksen gets on the ball and plays like he can, he can lead his side to a big three points to kick off their World Cup journey.
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