Doha: Denmark go into their opening World Cup game against a tricky Tunisia side on Tuesday in the unusual position of being among Europe’s dark horses, in with an outside chance of winning the tournament if they can get everything right in Qatar.
The key group game will be against France, a side they beat twice in the recent Nations League campaign. But first they will need to ensure that there are no slip-ups in their opener against the Tunisians, who beat Iran 2-0 in their final pre-World Cup friendly.
To ensure the best possible start, the Danes will turn to playmaker Christian Eriksen, who suffered a heart attack in their Euro 2020 opener against Finland in Copenhagen but who has since made a full recovery.
“After he came back, it’s been unbelievable. The second he stepped into the pitch for the first time in Amsterdam, playing against Holland, he just took control of the match and scored, and since then, he’s just been better and better,” coach Kasper Hjulmand told Reuters in a recent interview.
Hjulmand has kept faith with many of the squad that pulled together in the wake of Eriksen’s near-fatal collapse, and the fact that the 30-year-old playmaker is fully fit will make a huge difference.
Eriksen’s World Cup debut came in South Africa, but back then he was a teenager just breaking through in the senior ranks of the national team. He comes to Qatar as a Manchester United player acknowledged as one of the world’s best in opening up stubborn defences.
A 5-1 drubbing by Brazil in Paris aside, Tunisia’s recent performances have been steady without being spectacular, but they are still capable of punishing any mistakes the Danes might make.
At the 2018 World Cup they held England scoreless until Harry Kane scored in the 91st minute to give the English a narrow win.
Appearing at their sixth finals, Tunisia have never made the knockout stage. Being drawn in a group with Denmark, France and Australia has left them with something of a mountain to climb.
To do so they will have to shackle Eriksen, something few sides in international football have managed to do with any great success.
“He is the rhythm, he is the heart of our team, the pulse of our play. He’s a tremendous football player,” Hjulmand said, and now Tunisia have to find a way to stop him.