Football is a game of fine margins; split seconds can make or break months, even years, of hard work. Denmark will know that their draw against Australia could be more costly than it seemed at the time when they face France in the final Group C game on Tuesday evening.
Statistically speaking, the Danes are in control of their own destiny as they look to join their next opponents in the next game by securing a spot in the last 16 of the World Cup; they know a point will do. But had they kept the Socceroos at bay in Samara on Thursday, they would have faced a much nicer challenge this week; playing for first or second place. Peru, while entertaining and energetic on and off the pitch in their two games so far, clearly lack quality having already been eliminated; Australia will believe they can send them home without a point on the board, adding some extra pressure on Denmark. If they beat France, though, they would finish first, meaning a potential last 16 showdown with Lionel Messi and Argentina.
All is not particularly well from the French point of view; they may have maximum points from two games which, given the fact Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina don’t, is no mean feat, but the reaction towards Didier Deschamps is not one of a country fully behind their national team manager. The media have been highly critical of his tactics, suggesting they are too cautious considering the level of quality he has in his squad. N’Golo Kante provides a great screen for a relatively inexperienced defence, but Deschamps has insisted on playing a midfield partner alongside him; Corentin Tolisso against Australia and Blaise Matuidi against Peru. The double pivot has helped Paul Pogba make more of an impact on games, but has slowed down the process in attack and stopped momentum growing.
But the manager is unlikely to stray away from that approach, especially with Eriksen on the pitch. Denmark will look to negate Kante’s pressure on the ball by playing long balls into Nicolai Jorgensen, so the extra height of Matuidi and Pogba could prove crucial to winning the midfield battle and the match. Age Hareide will know it will be tough to dominate the middle of the pitch; without the injured William Kvist, their best bet is playing Christian Eriksen in a deeper role, but it was proven in the second half against Australia that Denmark really struggle in the final third without their talisman.
Yussuf Poulsen‘s absence through suspension will be a bitter blow for Denmark; in many ways, the Red Bull Leipzig striker has been their most important player at the tournament so far. Not only did he score the only goal against Peru, but he was key to their tactics; playing on the right wing, he bulled the left back and provided a diagonal outlet for direct passes. Given that France’s biggest weakness so far has been at full back, where they are playing two centre backs out of position in Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, missing Poulsen could blunt Denmark’s attacking threat significantly.
There are a number of ways in which Hareide can change his side to good effect; Kasper Dolberg, one of Europe’s hottest young strinkers after breaking through at Ajax, has not been given a chance to show what he can do. The 20-year-old would compliment Jorgensen quite well because his strength is running in behind defences, and he could pick up the pieces from his flick ons. That would be the best way to go if the idea is to bypass Kante and give Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti a problem to deal with, but it would significantly reduce the space for Eriksen to run into.
Putting pressure on out wide is the best way for Denmark to hurt France, but they will have to stay compact in midfield. Like Eriksen, Pogba thrives with space to run into, and after a superb display against Australia, Thomas Delaney will need to play Well up against the Manchester United man. Andreas Christensen and Simon Kjaer will have their work cut out against Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann, while Jens Stryer Larsen must keep his discipline as he is expected to come up against Kylian Mbappe.
If that is the case, Pione Sisto will have a tough job on the day; without Poulsen, the Celta Vigo winger will be the main source of creativity out wide, but while he could have a field day against Pavard, who has looked far from comfortable so far this summer, he will not have too much support coming from behind him and may need to double up on Mbappe at times.
France may not be a pretty side to watch, but they are effective both in possession and on the counter attack. Peru played into their hands at times by attempting to play through them, so Denmark must get the ball in behind them as quickly as possible. A draw would suit both teams, but without Poulsen, it will be interesting to see if the Danes can adapt their identity in attack, while keeping all that quality quiet at the other end.
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