For us Danes it feels a little bit strange going into a major tournament without Morten Olsen. The former player and national coach has had, by some distance, the greatest influence on Danish football over the past five decades. During the 1970s and 1980s he was a great leader and captain of the Danish national team that enchanted the world with their attack-minded football, and especially at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. And then, from 2000 to 2015 he was the national head coach.
But, everything must come to an end and after failing to reach to consecutive tournaments Olsen quit and the Danish Football Federation opted to appoint the Norwegian Åge Hareide, the only coach to have won the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian championships. Hareide, a former Manchester City player, has kept the Danish tradition of playing attacking football but has changed the tactics and the philosophy drastically. In his mind he had one job: to get the best out of Christian Eriksen.
“When I see a great player I will give that player all the freedom in the world to use his skills,” Hareide told Jyllands-Posten a few months before the World Cup.
Denmark does not play Dutch and Spanish inspired possession football anymore with endless – and sometimes pointless – passing. The style is direct, aggressive and fast. This has created space for Eriksen and the Tottenham midfielder was extremely important for Denmark during the World Cup qualifiers. In 19 games under Hareide Eriksen has scored 15 goals. In 57 matches with Olsen as manager he managed six.
Denmark also uses the physical advantages of their players now. Players such as Simon Kjaer, Andreas Bjelland, Thomas Delany, Yussuf Yurary Poulsen and Mathias “Zanka” Jørgensen are all big and strong with the Werder Bremen midfielder Delaney, especially, a threat from set-pieces (opposing defenders seem to forget about him as they focus on Denmark’s central defenders.
Denmark can and will press aggressively in the opponents’ half but our football heritage has not been forgotten. Therefore Denmark often ends their games having had more possession than the opponent. The difference now is that every pass needs to count. It needs to have a purpose.
Defensively Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen is the odd man out as Hareide prefers the experience of Sevilla’s Kjaer and Bjelland from Brentford in the English Championship
In the midfield William Kvist has been heavily criticised for being too old and too slow. The holding midfielder has lost his position in the starting lineup at FC Copenhagen, which threatens his position in the Danish starting lineup, but he did have a superb game as Denmark won 5-1 in Dublin to secure their place in Russia and Hareide could keep faith in him.
Probable starting XI (4-3-3): Schmeichel – Dalsgaard, Kjaer, Bjelland, Stryger Larsen – Schöne, Eriksen, Delaney – Poulsen, Joergensen, Sisto
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Andreas Bjelland has held his place in the Danish starting lineup even with Andreas Christensen impressing for Chelsea in the Premier League. Bjelland is a left-footed central defender who is good on the ball and displays great vision and coolness. Bjelland’s career has not been straightforward and he only had his breakthrough at the age of 24 when he won the Danish championship with FC Nordsjaelland in 2012. Tore his ACL immediately after arriving at Brentford and had to fight his way back. A strong performance at the World Cup will definitely give Bjelland attention from bigger clubs.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
Perhaps it will be Christian Eriksen. How can’t he with the weight of the Danish expectations on his shoulders after almost single handedly having secured the Danish World Cup qualification. Eriksen’s girlfriend, Sabrina, is expected to give birth to the couple’s first child just before Denmark’s first game in Saransk against Peru and that could play on his mind too.
What is the realistic aim for Denmark at the World Cup and why?
The draw was kind to Denmark with Peru from pot 2 and Australia from pot 4 and the general conception in Denmark seems to be that Peru has little World Cup experience and a team with players at smaller clubs than the Danish while Australia has a new head coach after a weak qualification tournament. So, as far as the Danes are concerned, Hareide’s team are the favourites to go through from the group stage behind France. A game in the round of 16 against Croatia or Argentina is in sight.