World Cup 2018: Why Hareide's Danes could be surprise package in Russia

World Cup 2018: Why Hareide's Danes could be surprise package in Russia

With the World Cup in the motherland now just days away, could Denmark be set for an extended stay in Russia this summer?

Neil Leverett

As the digits on the World Cup countdown clock dwindle, anticipation continues to build at a rate of knots ahead of the start of its' XXI edition this summer in Russia, now just days away.

Whilst favourites to lift the trophy are debated and indeed collated globally amongst fans, pundits, the media and everyone in between, few could make a case against this year's winner being pulled from the pool of previous winners of the competition, when the World champions will be crowned in Moscow on July 15.

With the likes of Brazil, Spain, Germany and France mooted as possible victors, there remain a handful of names that could surprise. One of said teams set to make a mark in the motherland are Denmark and though they may not be world conquerors, Åge Hareide's men could be set for something of an odyssey this summer.

Memories of glory in '92

Having only qualified for the World Cup via the play-offs, the Danes boast rather underrated strength in many areas of the field and provided all of them tick, could combine to bring about the Scandinavians' most successful competition since Euro '92.

In a remarkable tournament for Denmark, the underdogs progressed to the final before stunning the defending world champions [West] Germany - winning 2-1 in the final - to become European Champions as skipper Lars Olsen lifted the trophy on neighbouring Swedish soil in Gothenburg.

Their most recent success was in 2002, when the country reached the last 16 in Japan and South Korea, before England took them apart in a first-half demolition in Niigata City. 

Having failed to reach the quarter-final stages since their glorious win now 26 years ago, the Danes are however, now building a side again capable of challenging the European and even World elite.


Eriksen leads Danes into battle

De Rød Hvide's main weapon will of course be talisman, creator and goal-scorer in Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen. The 26-year-old continues to blossom for both club and country as each season passes and this term has been no exception. 

When the majestic Dane is not supplying assists, he is himself finding the back of the net for his country having scored 21 times for the national side in 77 appearances. 

The midfield schemer scored a hat-trick at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin last November eliminating the Republic of Ireland, and in total adding 11 goals during qualifying for Russia, finishing tied for third with Belgium's Romelu Lukaku behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski in the charts.

Almost in spite of a more than decent goal record for Spurs, Eriksen is arguably a greater menace in the Red and White for his nation, currently scoring a goal on average every 98 minutes.


No one-trick ponies

But the Danish midfield does not merely have one prong to it. FC Copenhagen's William Kvist is the engine room in Hareide's system.

The former VfB Stuttgart, Wigan Athletic and Fulham man has been a stalwart in the Denmark make-up for over a decade now, and having matured has proviously led his country. Together with Borussia Dortmund's newest summer acquisition Thomas Delaney - who netted a hat-trick also against Armenia in qualifying - the two could provide one of the more awkward propositions to get a hold of - perhaps literally.

Denmark have a number of tricky customers further up the field in a wide area also. The Celta Vigo's Pione Sisto could be a thorn in a number of sides, as could Ajax man Lasse Schöne and Kvist's team-mate in the Danish capital, Viktor Fischer.

Could their chemistry domestically seep into the perfect formula this summer in Russia?


Danish dynamite? 

Whilst the World Cup has been robbed of the ever modest Lord Nicklas Bendtner through injury, the striking options for his compatriots are plenty, if a tad inconsistent.

Their two main threats from a forward are likely to come from Eredivisie. Feyenoord's Nicolai Jørgensen has scored eight times for the national side in 30 games, and although having had a rather off-colour season in Holland with just nine goals in Holland, the 27-year-old striker was top scorer in the Dutch league the season before with 21 goals to his name.

The same can be said of Kasper Dolberg of Ajax. The 20-year-old is still on something of a learning curve, but his talents cannot be refuted and could play a pivotal role despite having scored just once for the Danes in four games, having been promoted from the U-21 side.

Elsewhere, Martin Braithwaite could be a option off the bench for Hareide's side and if Denmark need a turn of pace, the Bordeaux front-man may prove to be a tricky customer. Former Cardiff City man Andreas Cornelius scored in three separate games in qualifying also, whilst RP Leipzig's Yussuf Poulsen adds further strength to the ranks.


Defensive solidity

If the Danes are to progress in the tournament in Russia, it will be their defensive nouse that could see the Scandinavian outfit through.

Peter Schmeichel was part of Denmark's 1992 European Championship winning side and like his father, Kasper Schmeichel will be looking for his own place in history this summer.

The Leicester City stopper and vice-captain has 31 caps under his belt and has been a regular between the sticks for his country, continuing to keep out Premier League-mate Jonas Lössl of Huddersfield Town.

With one of Europe's best shot-stoppers in goal, Danish captain Simon Kjær will lead from the back. Aside from Kvist, The Sevilla defender is the most-capped Danish player in the squad with 77 appearances since 2009 and went to South Africa in 2010 as part of Morten Olsen's side, so boasts experience.

The remaining numbers in defence has a decidedly English-based feel about them. Chelsea's Andreas Christensen has shown is rapidly becoming one of the Premier League's brightest young talents and together with Kjaer with provide a real aerial prowess to the Danish game.

The Terriers' Mathias 'Zanka' Jørgensen is a third option at centre-back if Hareide opts for a three-man back line. Whilst Ipswich Town fans will know of Jonas Knudsen and his razor-like deliveries from a wide area, Brentford's Henrik Dalsgaard and Udinese man Jens Stryger Larsen, are likely to take their places at right and left-back respectively.


Hopes rely on strong start

So what of Denmark's chances is Russia? On paper, their route through the groups to the knockout stages is one that is perfectly manageable however topping the group could take some doing.

France are one of the hot favourites to again become World champions let alone top Group C, but the Danes could put spanner in the French works at the Luzhniki Stadium on June 26 when they meet in Moscow  - not least after Les Bleus' worrying 1-1 draw with the USA on Saturday night in Lyon.

Hareide's men have also come through their warm-up schedule unscathed having not conceded a goal and earning a draw with Sweden and a win versus Mexico, as Eriksen one again stole the show.

The game versus Didier Deschamps' side being their final one of the pool stages however, will mean Danish Dynamite needing points on the board against either or indeed both of Peru and Australia. The Danes should have the defensive capabilities and the goals thought to reach the last 16, albeit against rather unpredictable opponents.

A route then through Round two pitting them against the winners of Group D's fireworks, of any one of Argentina, Croatia, Iceland or Nigeria await. A win then would see a quarter-final berth, but there are many permutations to reach that stage.

Every World Cup throws up a surprise name or nation that far exceeds the general consensus of opinion; In 2002 hosts South Korea unfathomably reached the semi-finals beating both Italy and Spain; In 2010 it was Ghana; four years ago in Brazil, Colombia. 2018 could very well see the rise of Danish football once more.


Denmark begin their World Cup campaign against Peru at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 16


Football News