At the World Cup in Russia, Christian Eriksen is definitely the key to Denmark’s hopes. His influence on the team performance is huge, and if the attacking midfielder is in good shape, the Nordic team can go quite far at the tournament.
The man to watch
At 26, Eriksen seems to be in his prime. So far, he has scored fewer goals for the national team than the 30-year-old striker Nicklas Bendtner (who misses the World Cup after an injury), but throughout the qualifying campaign, Christian’s impact highly contributed to the team’s success. The footballer, who is not even a pure forward but rather a creator, scored 11 goals overall, which is the joint third best result in the whole European qualification. Only Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo netted more often, 16 and 15 times respectively.
During the qualification, Denmark played 12 matches - 10 in the group and two play-off legs against Ireland. Age Hareide’s team scored in 9 of these games - and Eriksen netted in eight, including a hat-trick in Dublin, which helped his team to thrash Ireland 5:1 and to secure a spot at the World Cup finals.
Eriksen may be somewhat underrated in England, where he plays his club football for Tottenham Hotspur - at least compared to the biggest Premier League stars. But in Denmark, he is seen as a truly top footballer. “He is absolutely in the top 10 players of the world. When we get the ball, the first thing to do is to look for Christian,” says the national coach Age Hareide.
Learning the lesson
Hareide’s predecessor Morten Olsen was not always so enthusiastic about Eriksen’s capabilities. When Denmark lost the EURO’2016 qualifier to Portugal in October 2016, Olsen harshly blamed Christian for that defeat. The coach criticized the Tottenham player for his lack of impact at the national team, especially compared to his almost namesake Cristiano Ronaldo who scored the winner in that match. Now his words would sound crazy - Eriksen has definitely learned his lesson and become a true leader of Denmark.
Olsen was at the helm of the national team for a really long time, from 2000 to 2016. He enjoyed several quite successful World Cup and EURO campaigns during that spell, but ultimately the things started to deteriorate. Denmark failed to qualify to both 2014 World Cup and EURO 2016, so the veteran coach stepped down and was replaced by the Norwegian Hareide.
That proved to be a good choice, as Hareide managed to lead the team to the World Cup. Denmark struggled early in the campaign as they lost two of their three opening games, against Poland and Montenegro. But then they managed to turn the tide and finished second in Group E after Poland - and progressed to the play-offs, where, as mentioned before, they beat Ireland.
Danish Dynamite can explode
Denmark do not boast a star-studded squad, but that was the case nearly always in the team’s history. For example, when the Nordic side sensationally won EURO 1992, they had just a couple of big names in the roster, such as Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel. Now they also have a Schmeichel - Peter’s son Kasper is maybe not as great as his dad, but he is a good and reliable goalkeeper. Other prominent figures in the team include Sevilla’s defender Simon Kjaer, Copenhagen’s midfielder William Kvist as well as Feyenoord’s striker Nicolai Jorgensen. And obviously we should not forget about Bendtner, once an “enfant terrible” of the Danish football who has seen his career revival at Rosenborg and has not said his last word in the international football.
It looks like Denmark has a fair chance to progress from the group with France, Australia and Peru. And then anything may happen in the play-offs - if Eriksen is as prolific as he was during the qualification, the Danish Dynamite can explode once again.