Nullifying Eriksen threat pivotal to Croatia’s World Cup mission


Having collected maximum points from their three Group D fixtures against Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland, it is unsurprising that Croatia are now regarded as one of the favourites to win this summer’s FIFA World Cup. The Vatreni entered the tournament as ‘dark horses’ – of course they did – but, with a series of impressive performances on the pitch, they have now earned the right to be considered much more than rank outsiders.

Furthermore, 51-year-old coach Zlatko Dalić has proved himself to be a very fine tactician, especially after outwitting Albiceleste boss Jorge Sampaoli, who was himself the subject of an awful lot of hype after his Chile side schooled Spain in the art of pressing four years ago in Brazil. Dalić undoubtedly takes a much more measured approach to his work, which is why few are in any doubt that he will have a plan in place to contain the outstanding Christian Eriksen when his team faces Denmark tomorrow night in the Round of 16.

Indeed, the 26-year-old midfielder admits that he is under a huge amount of pressure to deliver on the international stage for the Scandinavians, after enjoying yet another highly successful season at Tottenham Hotspur. The former Ajax playmaker is also looking forward to testing himself against Real Madrid superstar Luka Modrić:

“I do not consider myself to be worse than him. Modrić has won an incredible number of accolades. Of course, the team at Real Madrid has helped him, but he has played to a very high standard. He is the type of player you enjoy challenging yourself against. For the national team, he is more attacking than he is for Madrid.” Nizhny Novgorod will provide Eriksen with the ideal platform on which to prove he is one of the best midfielders in the world and that he is capable of matching someone who has four UEFA Champions League titles to his name.

It goes without saying that Eriksen is the heartbeat of the Danish national team and he will play a crucial role if they are to cause an upset and eliminate Croatia from the tournament. However, as far as Dalić and his players are concerned, it would be a mistake to focus solely on stopping the Spurs man from strutting his stuff. For example, Pione Sisto is a pacy, direct winger who has shown during his time as a Celta Vigo player that he is capable of creating danger for world class La Liga defences. The 23-year-old Uganda-born wide man certainly has the talent to emerge as Åge Hareide’s secret weapon.

Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jørgensen will be refreshed having been left out of the starting XI against France, with Andreas Cornelius appearing in his place. He certainly has the requisite experience and physique to pose some problems to Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida in what is sure to be an intriguing positional battle. The Ballerup native has scored goals consistently throughout the past five or six years, so he will fancy his chances of making a mark on the biggest stage there is.

Of course, if Jørgensen is to thrive, the likes of Eriksen and midfield colleague Thomas Delaney must be adept at finding space between the lines of Dalić’s trademark 4-2-3-1 system. Croatia will undoubtedly dominate possession, so Denmark will have to be well organised defensively and prepared to hit their opponents on the counter-attack whenever possible. Hareide is a shrewd operator and will relish the fact his side go into the match as underdogs. As a coach, he has thrived in such situations as a coach for over 30 years.

As for Croatia, they must work hard with the ball to ensure that they are constantly looking to penetrate Denmark’s defence. Otherwise, their possession will inevitably become futile and there is a danger that, from their point of view, they allow their opponents to settle into the game and keep their shape with relative ease. The longer the game remains goalless, there is a greater chance of Christian Eriksen finding a pocket of space and producing a moment of magic. Dalić and his team must prepare to be frustrated, as discipline and patience are key at this stage of tournament football. It may well be a cliché, but that does not make it any less true.

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