Denmark has a chance to put one foot into the round of 16 on Thursday but also realizes it needs a better effort than in its opening match as it faces Australia in a Group C clash in Samara.
The Danes were outclassed for most of their opener against Peru and were spared some blushes when Christian Cueva missed a penalty for the Incas before Yussuf Poulsen struck in the 59th minute to lift Denmark to a 1-0 victory.
Denmark coach Age Hareide admitted afterwards his team had fortune on its side in the post-match press conference, saying “They (Peru) got very little and probably deserved some more — sometimes that happens. We were on the lucky side.”
The victory also came at a heavy cost as veteran midfielder William Kvist suffered two broken ribs and a punctured lung following a first-half collision with Jefferson Farfan that has ruled him out for as far as Denmark progresses.
The 33-year-old Kvist was the most-capped player on Denmark’s roster after making his 81st appearance.
Australia will forever be the answer to the trivia question of which team had VAR first go against it at the World Cup as a penalty call went against the Socceroos in the second half of their 2-1 defeat to France on Friday.
Mile Jedniak did pull Australia level with a penalty of his own shortly thereafter, but the Socceroos could not see out the match for the point, struggling to deal with the shift in tactics by Les Bleus after they introduced Olivier Giroud, who set up Paul Pogba’s match-winner 10 minutes from time.
It was the fourth straight World Cup defeat for the Socceroos, who went winless in group play in Brazil and have just two wins in 14 matches (2-3-9) all-time in football’s biggest tournament. Their last victory came against Serbia to complete group play in 2010.
LAST TIME OUT
While Poulsen atoned for the foul that led to Peru’s penalty with his goal, Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel had arguably the best opening match of anyone between the sticks in Russia. He finished with six saves, second only to Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa’s nine, and made two key interventions in the final half-hour to preserve the victory.
Midfielder Christian Eriksen lived up to the hype as one of the most creative players at the World Cup, notching the assist on Poulsen’s goal. Australia coach Bert van Mawijk, though, is familiar with the Spurs playmaker having him seen rise through Ajax’s youth system while guiding the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final.
Australia’s 10 shots were the second-fewest of any team in the first set of matches, and they failed to put a shot on target beyond Jedniak’s penalty despite having as much possession as a more-talented French side.
The struggles behind the solid midfield pairing of Jedniak and Aaron Mooy may have created an opportunity for 37-year-old Tim Cahill, who is the Socceroos all-time leading scorer with 50 goals and has scored in Australia’s three previous World Cup appearances.
Schone, who entered the game when Kvist was injured, is likely the first choice for van Marwijk as his replacement in the starting XI. The only other potential swap would take place if central defender Andreas Christensen is unable to go after being forced off on 81 minutes with a knock. Mathias Jorgensen would be the top option to fill that spot after playing the final nine minutes versus Peru.
Nabbout is expected to lead the line again for the Socceroos, though it would not be surprising to see Tomi Juric starting in a reversal of their roles from the first match. Both outside backs, Aziz Behich and Joshua Ridson, are on yellow cards, and Poulsen’s pace on the right could give Behich problems.
Hareide was forced into two switches through injury, while Martin Brathwaite was largely anonymous in his 23 minutes after replacing Pione Sisto. None of van Marwijk’s three swaps had a meaningful impact, which does mean a longer look down the bench to either Cahill or a longer stint for 19-year-old Daniel Arzani, who played six minutes versus France.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Denmark – Kasper Schmeichel (GK)
Schmeichel has now recorded five clean sheets in as many matches this calendar year and extended his shutout streak to 534 minutes dating back to Denmark’s second-leg World Cup playoff versus Ireland last November. The Leicester City shot-stopper was the best player on the pitch for Denmark versus Peru, now the Danish offense needs to raise its play to match.
Australia – Mile Jedniak (MF)
Jedniak calmly took Australia’s penalty, which was a gift from France due to a moment of madness by Samuel Umtiti. The Aston Villa midfielder needs to form a push-pull tandem with Aaron Mooy to both help contain Eriksen while picking moments to go forward against a Denmark defense that was vulnerable at points versus Peru.
Per Ladbrokes, Denmark is an even-money favorite to win while Australia are slight underdogs at 3-1. The odds of a draw are listed at 21-10. Nicolai Jorgensen is the favorite to open the scoring at 4-1, with Eriksen a surprisingly deep fourth option at 11-2. Poulsen is a longer option at 13-2, slightly ahead of Australia’s top options of Nabbout and Juric at 7-1.
To some local Australia media, this match is a referendum on the state of the Socceroos. Van Marwijk has reined in some of the all-out attack approach of predecessor Ange Postecoglou, and that was evident for much of the match versus France as Australia played disciplined, defensive football.
Against Denmark, some of those previous offensive forays should return given the talent levels are more balanced. The issue is whether Jedniak and Mooy can get away from Eriksen and roll forward to link up with Nabbout and Robbie Kruse.
Like Australia, Denmark would like more production up front and take some of the pressure off Eriksen, who had 11 goals in European qualifying. Him and Poulsen were lethal together, the next task is to get Nicolai Jorgensen more involved up front as Denmark sorely missed first-choice and injured striker Nicklas Bendtner.
Australia will not put Denmark under as much stress with its speed like Peru, but Eriksen will find the Socceroos difficult to break down. There is not much separating these teams, but Denmark should see out another 1-0 victory thanks to Eriksen and Schmeichel.
Denmark will renew acquaintances with continental rival France on Tuesday in Moscow, while Australia completes group play against Peru at the same time in Sochi.