WORLD CUP: Eriksen key to Denmark emulating 1992 heroics
There are two reasons why Denmark should not be completely written off at the World Cup.
Firstly, remember 1992? The Danes won the European Championship, having been told they were playing in the tournament only a week before it started after Yugoslavia was excluded while in a state of civil war. It remains one of the most unlikely title triumphs in international football.
Secondly, Christian Eriksen. With its midfield maestro healthy and in form, Denmark believes anything is possible. Eriksen is one of the standout performers in the English Premier League with Tottenham and scored 11 goals in World Cup qualifying — third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski in the European zone.
This will be Denmark’s fifth appearance at a World Cup and the team has got out of its group on three of the previous four occasions, reaching the quarterfinals in 1998.
The Danes head to Russia in good shape: They are No. 12 in the FIFA rankings, making them the eighth best team in Europe at present.
Here’s a closer look at the Denmark team:
Age Hareide has spent his entire 33-year coaching career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. The 64-year-old Norwegian succeeded Denmark’s longest-serving coach, Morten Olsen, after the team’s failure to qualify for the 2016 European Championship and was initially received with skepticism. He’s happy to acknowledge his tactics revolve around getting Eriksen on the ball.
In the early part of Kaspar Schmeichel’s career, he was mostly referred to as the son of Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel. He has now etched his own place in football history as part of the Leicester team that won the Premier League in 2016 at preseason odds of 5,000-1 in one of sport’s most sensational underdog stories. Now established as Denmark’s first-choice goalkeeper, Schmeichel is a brilliant shot-stopper — he spreads himself just like his father used to — and a good organizer of the defense in front of him.
Simon Kjaer is the captain and classy stalwart at center back, where he excels in the air and through his reading of the game. His natural heir might be Andreas Christensen, who broke through at Premier League team Chelsea this season and took the place of Brazil international David Luiz. Concerns remain about Christensen’s fragility — especially playing in a four-man defense, unlike at Chelsea where he plays as a sweeper — but he is comfortable on the ball and confident in bringing it out from the back.
Eriksen is the fulcrum of the midfield, the player Hareide wants to get in space either out wide or centrally. Only 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen made just two appearances — both as substitute — that year and wasn’t in good form at Euro 2012. Now he is at the peak of his career and so much is expected of him in Russia. Set-pieces, long-range shots, work rate, vision, Eriksen has the lot. And Hareide knows it, recently saying: “When we get the ball, the first thing we do is to look for Christian.” That’s what happened in the playoff victory over Ireland, when Eriksen scored a spectacular hat trick in the second leg in Dublin.
Eriksen has talented players around him in midfield, particularly tricky winger Pione Sisto and central midfielder Lasse Schone. William Kvist, 33, is the wily anchorman at the base of the midfield, with more than a decade of international experience.
In front of Eriksen, Denmark does not have a prolific striker at the highest level. Nicolai Jorgensen started the season in red-hot form for Feyenoord but has cooled off since the turn of the year. Kasper Dolberg is highly rated and starred for Ajax last season, but has missed much of this season through injury and might not be sharp for the World Cup. Andreas Cornelius and Niklas Bendtner should also make the squad but lack an X-factor. Hareide is likely to play one up front and perhaps rely on goals from midfield.
Based in Krasnodar, Denmark opens Group C against Peru on June 16 before facing Australia on June 21 and France on June 26.
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