If there is one thing that can be taken from Denmark’s victory over Peru on Saturday, it is that every game the South Americans play at their first World Cup in 36 years will be an exciting watch. They came into the tournament predicted to be everyone’s second favourite team; given the energy and attacking intent they showed, it is easy to see why.
Red Bull Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen’s second half strike was enough to secure a 1-0 victory for Denmark, who are favourites to go through from Group C alongside France. But Peru gave it a good go, and the minimum they deserved from the game was a draw; 17 shots and six on target backs that up. Denmark’s reaction to the result, huddling together once the whistle had blown, suggested they knew they’d ridden their luck all evening. Kasper Schmeichel is now unbeaten in 534 international minutes, and there is no doubt that he was his side’s saviour again. Watford’s Andre Carillo and Christian Cueva of Rayo Vallecano were the stars for Peru, despite the latter’s missed penalty, which came courtesy of VAR; Paulo Guerrero, the 34-year-old talisman and all time top goalscorer available to play after his drug ban was lifted, came off the bench and made a real difference, too. Without a doubt, he will be in contention to start against France next week.
But for all of Peru’s dominance and well deserved praise, Denmark did enough to swing the game in their favour. Schmeichel shone, but it was a team effort; they utilised their strengths brilliantly in an attacking sense. Rather than playing the ball into Christian Eriksen, their main source of creativity, and allowing him to open up the Peru’s defence, they opted to keep their shape and play direct balls into Poulsen, who played out on the right-hand side, and Nicolai Jorgensen; he led the line well and brought Eriksen into the game with the second balls. The goal was architected by the Tottenham star, though, who played in Poulsen with a well-timed pass, which he finished well for his fifth international goal. The way his side set up meant Eriksen couldn’t get on the ball asd much as he would have liked; Denmark are a safety first outfit and they deliberately allowed Peru to come onto them so they could hit them on the counter attack. William Kvist and Thomas Delaney played well, before the former was forced off through injury, but the midfield must be tighter when they face Australia and then France.
The contrast in styles out wide was also hugely benefiicial to Denmaerk. Poulsen’s presence allowed a double threat for their long passes, putting Peru’s back line, which had no player over six feet tall in it, under more threat without losing the midfield organisation. While he scored at one end, he made an equally important contribution by clearing a goal-bound effort off the line at the other. PIone Sisto, playing on the left, was given more freedom to use his pace to threaten Peru; there weren’t too many particular incidents of note from him, but he showed glimpses of his quality and why he will be so important over the next two games and beyond.
Against Australia on Thursday, Denmark will have to change their approach. Bert van Marwijk‘s men don’t possess the pace and dynamism in attack of Peru and, like the Scandanavians, they choose function over flaIr. The pressure will be on Denmark to set the tempo this time; they’ll need to be a little braver if they are to avoid another nervy game. Kvist was stretchered off in the first half last timew out, so he is unlikely to play; perhaps Age Hareide could pick a replacement to free up Eriksen a little more, who can expect the ball into feet in the next game. Jorgensen did his job on Saturday, but Kasper Dolberg, the Ajax youngster, may count himself a little bit unlucky if he doesn’t come in. He is better at playing in behind, which Denmark should look to do; the Socceroos held their own against France, but they were vulnerable when Kylian Mbappe stretched his legs. Sisto will look to do the same and he, Dolberg and even Martin Braithwaite, a substitute against Peru, hold the key, rather than Jorgensen and Poulsen, who were always going to be vital in the first game.
The result against Peru was more important than their performance, and Denmark will be pleased to have gotten over the line, even in the fortuitous fashion in which they did. Kvist’s injury cost them dearly and allowed their opponents to grow in confidence, but if he is not fit, it could be a blessing in disguise if it forces a reshape that gets more out of Eriksen. Progression to the next round is in their hands now, but they will have to flex their muscles in an attacking sense if they are to put a brave, hard-working Australia side to the sword before a potential group decider with France in Moscow.
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