13:00 BST, Thursday 21st June, Samara Arena (Samara), ITV
Though far from pretty and perhaps undeserving, Denmark earned a valuable three points with their 1-0 victory over hard-luck Peru on Saturday in Mordovia. That result, coupled with France’s less-than-spectacular 2-1 win over Australia earlier in the day at Kazan, has the Danes sitting in a good position within Group C.
However, Denmark players, including star Christian Eriksen, admit they were far from their best and fortunate to come out ahead. The Danes should expect things to be just as tough against Australia, and perhaps tougher knowing they won’t have the services of veteran midfielder William Kvist.
Reports surfaced Sunday that the 33-year-old Kvist will miss the rest of the tournament after he was stretchered off in the first half because of what proved to be a punctured lung as the result of two fractured ribs. Kvist was sent home to recover, leaving Denmark manager Åge Hareide in somewhat of a bind.
The Socceroos, meanwhile, offered an admirable performance against the favoured French, often frustrating the superior side, especially in the first half. However, it proved to be technology – specifically VAR – that was the star of the match.
That defeat leaves Australia with little room for error in this one, but still enough confidence to believe they should rebound to earn at least a point. This will be the fourth meeting between the sides, with Denmark winning two of the three previous meetings after a 2-0 victory in 2012.
Last Time Out
Peru 0-1 Denmark
Denmark managed just three shots on target and held possession 48% of the time, but made their best scoring opportunity of the game count.
Unlike Peru, who missed several chances among their six shots on goal, highlighted by Christian Cueva’s penalty that sailed high over the bar right before the half.
Read five things we learned from Denmark’s victory HERE.
Though Peru did a solid job neutralising the Danish attack and paying close attention Eriksen, one of the few times they gave the Tottenham midfielder space, he made them pay. Eriksen threaded a nifty pass to a pursuing Yussuf Poulsen, who beat forward-moving Peru keeper Pedro Gallese in the 59th minute.
While Poulsen, whose foul led to Cueva’s penalty, came through when it mattered, keeper Kasper Schmeichel continued his recent brilliance by thwarting attempts from Edison Flores, Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfán. His five straight clean sheets top his father Peter Schmeichel’s run of four in a row from 1995.
Paced by Schmeichel, Denmark have gone 16 consecutive FIFA-sanctioned matches without a defeat.
France 2-1 Australia
Though Australia manager Bert van Marwijk praised his side’s performance and intensity, he and his players were left frustrated in the end.
French star Antoine Griezmann converted a penalty in the 58th minute as a result of the first VAR penalty decision in World Cup history. Referee Andres Cunha did not immediately call Josh Risdon’s contact with Griezmann but used the video technology to make the ruling. The Aussie coach and some players thought Cunha was too quick to go to the video.
Read five things we learned from Australia’s defeat HERE.
The Socceroos did equalise four minutes later when Mile Jedinak converted a penalty of his own following a Samuel Umtiti hand ball in the box.
However, as Australia tried to hang on for the point, France’s Paul Pogba took a ball from Olivier Giroud that he sent to the underside of the crossbar and down slightly across the line in the 81st minute. Goal-line video confirmed the winning shot, which was partially touched by Aussie defender Aziz Behich on the way in.
Australia managed just one shot on target, but their organisation and structure kept them in the contest despite that lack of attacking prowess.
When Kvist was taken off Saturday, Hareide replaced him with Lasse Schone and the results appeared mixed. Ajax’s Schone, however, could get the call to start Thursday.
Andreas Christensen, a key part of Denmark’s central defence, came off late against Peru because of cramping, but is expected to be ready for this contest. If he’s somehow unable to go, Jannik Vestergaard might get an opportunity on the Danes’ backline.
Reportedly, 20-year-old forward Kasper Dolberg is set to gain a spot in Hareide’s starting XI as one of the possible lineup changes for this contest.
Needing a result, Australia could opt for a more attack-orientated formation, but obviously still need to be vigilant of Eriksen. If the 4-2-3-1 remains intact, Jackson Irvine could be an option to help in the midfield.
Jamie Maclaren is another potential option up front should van Marwijk look to be more aggressive from the start.
Key Battle: Yussuf Poulsen (Denmark) vs Trent Sainsbury (Australia)
Poulsen now has a goal in two straight games, both assisted by Eriksen. Poulsen fared well down the right side of the field against Peru even though Denmark collectively offered few serious scoring chances.
He also showed composure and the ability to regroup after his foul on Cueva. It would have been interesting to see how Poulsen reacted had Cueva converted from the spot – and if his confidence would have taken a hit.
Instead, he earned a reprieve and made up for the mistake in the biggest way possible. That’s the mental toughness needed in a big event like the World Cup, and a trait that should only help Denmark going forward.
Australia’s own man of the match Saturday, Sainsbury was a big reason France’s attack looked lost at times, especially in the first half. The 26-year-old centre back was relentless while making life difficult for the likes of Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele.
Sainsbury’s positioning was key and his passionate play seemed to ignite the rest of the Australia backline as the match went on. One of his tackles actually deflated the ball.
Though Denmark don’t possess the same attacking talent as France, Sainsbury still must be at his best while Aaron Mooy leads the midfield hold against Eriksen.
Forward thinking Danes
Denmark might have felt they were “lucky” to beat Peru, who Hareide said “probably deserved more” from their meeting. But in this tournament, three points are as valuable as the gold on the World Cup trophy.
The Danes know they need to play better than they did over the weekend, and that Australia could prove just as worthy an opponent – at least from a defensive approach – because of the fits they gave France.
It’s about making the proper adjustments and playing with more passion, something that lacked against the Peruvians amidst an electric atmosphere in Mordovia.
Denmark shouldn’t be short on motivation because the reality is they are one win away from all but securing a spot in the knockout stage for the first time since 2002.
Believing in the system
Moments after their frustrating defeat to France, the Aussie’s turned their attention to Denmark and what they must do next. They also feel their defensive style of play can produce a result against the Danes.
The Socceroos totaled six goals in the two friendlies before the World Cup, that included two own goals. Add in Saturday’s penalty conversion and Australia are putting themselves in a position to score.
Their structure is usually based on forcing the opponent to make mistakes and taking advantage of the opportunities that may result.
That confidence is admirable, but will it be enough to earn at least one point against a Denmark side whose defensive form might be at the highest of any team in the 32-team field right now?
Prediction: Denmark 1-0 Australia
Sometimes close calls or a notion that the better team not winning can be a blessing amidst a run of success for a side.
Perhaps that’s the case with Denmark, who should learn their lesson from the opener and play with more passion and intensity in the follow-up.
Australia will provide another tough task, but Eriksen will be poised to be more of a factor and Schmeichel will again have his moments in helping the Danes record another victory to pave their way to the round of 16.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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