Everything started so well for Denmark but, in the end, they were left frustrated, angry and thinking nervously about France. Christian Eriksen was at the heart of everything good about their performance against Australia, but the trouble was, as against Peru, the Danes couldn’t keep up their early intensity up for the full 90 minutes and they slumped to a 1-1 draw.
Their pragmatic and direct approach to the Peru game served them well; they survived a few scares as the South Americans played like it was their first World Cup in 36 years; full of pace, energy and swagger, but the way they set up got them over the line in the end. Australia were never going to pose the same problems going forward, but that in itself made Denmark rethink their tactics in Samara. Instead of playing long balls into powerful strikers Nicolas Jorgensen and Yussuf Poulsen, exploiting the like of height in Peru’s backline, they were going to get more joy by playing through them and into Eriksen’s feet.
From the first minute, the Tottenham Hotspur man was dictating the tempo and still playing off Jorgensen to good effect. The pair combined for perhaps the best goal seen at the World Cup so far; a subllime flick by the imposing front man was timed perfectly for the onrushing Eriksen, who finished with aplomb into the roof of the net. It was a great start, and the base for a much better all round performance. Eriksen has now scored 13 goals and registered five assists in his last 15 internationals, showing once again just how much Denmark rely on him.
In the end, that was their downfall; just over half an hour later, Australia were level through Mile Jedinak’s penalty. Poulsen’s handball was not spotted by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz immediately, but after consultation with VAR, the Spanish official gave the decision and booked the Danish striker. As soon as Kasper Schmeichel was beaten, for the first time in over nine hours of international football, heads dropped and Eriksen’s impact on the game waned. As all top players do when they are frustrated, he went in search of the ball, pulling him further away from Jorgensen and the goal; with the momentum sapped from their performance, they couldn’t find any real tempo and succumbed to a frustrating result. Winning the game would have put them in a great position, but now Denmark must hold their own against France and hope Australia don’t beat Peru.
Two of the brightest sparks for different reasons were Thomas Delaney, who has already secured a summer move from Werder Bremen to Borussia Dortmund, and Pione Sisto. Both players gave the perfect platform for the high intensity approach Denmark needed to take, but for different reasons. Delaney, without midfield partner William Kvist after his tournament was cut short by injury, marshalled the midfield as a single pivot, allowing more men to get forward, and Sisto found joy running Australia right-back Joshua Risdon. Denmark swarmed their opponents early on, but then it suddenly changed.
Once Australia found a foothold in the game, they did exactly the same thing as against France, cut the supply to the strikers and allowed no space in between the lines of midfield and attack. Denmark’s reliance on Eriksen is understandable, but it can make them easy to play against if the opposition is sufficiently organised; Sisto was lively and can be another attacking threat, but they must learn to play through him more than they have if Eriksen is marked out of the game.
Age Hareide’s men still have the advantage in the race to join France in progressing from Group C, but it will become a lot more complicated if they fail to beat Les Bleus and Australia win against already eliminated Peru. While France have been far from convincing in their two games so far, they did find a more balanced system against Peru, which restricted their opponents to mostly speculative shots from outside the box. When Eriksen meets N’Golo Kante, who keeps the French shape in midfield expertly, in Moscow on Tuesday, it is bound to be an intriguing battle.
But now could be Sisto’s chance to shine; France do not have too many weak links in their star-studded squad, but their right-back Benjamin Pavard has looked a little overawed by his World Cup experience so far. The 22-year-old is a centre back by trade at Stuttgart, and he can be targeted to good effect to then get Jorgensen into the game; Eriksen will again play off him, making late runs in the box in behind Kante. Poulsen’s booking on Thursday means he will be suspended for the game, which is a huge blow to Hareide.
It was already going to be tough up against one of the tournament favourites, and Denmark’s job got a whole lot tougher after they failed to find their feet after Australia equalised. They are still alive, though, and more than confident of reaching the last 16 of the World Cup.
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