Manchester United midfielder Christian Eriksen took to the pitch for Denmark’s World Cup opener against Tunisia today.
The playmaker took to the pitch for his first tournament fixture since his cardiac arrest 18 months ago at Euro 2020. Eriksen made history the moment he stepped onto the pitch, becoming only the second Dane to feature in three World Cups.
Playing in a deep number ten role, Eriksen had Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney holding the midfield behind him, with Kasper Dolberg and Andreas Skov Olsen ahead of him.
He was involved immediately, threatening from a corner before drawing a thumping challenge from Ali Abdi. It was a sign of things to come, with Tunisia buoyed by their supporters, who heavily outnumbered their Danish counterparts.
Many will have expected Denmark to dominate proceedings early on, but it was Tunisia creating chances and winning territory in the opening 20 minutes and, as a result, Eriksen saw very little of the ball. When his teammates did manage to find him, the Tunisian double pivot of Ellyes Skhiri and Aissa Lidouani were quick to close him down.
Even so, Eriksen remained a set-piece threat, providing Andreas Christensen with a good opportunity from a corner that was parried. The resulting chaos saw Eriksen in possession on the wing, where he shimmied his fullback beautifully before winning a free kick.
A fantastic delivery went unconverted again, although the resultant corner led to another chance for Eriksen to make something happen, as he set Dolberg up at the near post. Again, however, the goalkeeper was equal to the strike.
It was in those moments when Denmark could capitalise on the chaos caused by Eriksen’s dead-ball prowess that they managed to quieten the stadium and make the most of their superior quality. In periods of open play, the effect of the Tunisian support was obvious in lifting the North African side, who played with an intensity the Danes just couldn’t cope with.
After around half an hour, however, they began to assert more control over the game as the Tunisian’s early pressing caught up with them. Most of their play went through wingbacks Rasmus Kristensen and Joakim Maehle, but Eriksen’s ability to put a ball in made him a threat as he drifted into the wide areas to escape the opposition’s defensive midfielders.
Despite Denmark taking on more initiative in the match, Tunisia created the chance of the half around the 43-minute mark for Issam Jebali, but an incredible save from Kasper Schmeichel kept the scores level. That remained the case until the interval, despite another couple of dangerous set-piece crosses from Eriksen.
With Denmark forced to replace an injured Thomas Delaney with Mikel Damsgaard, Eriksen’s role shifted in the second half. The Brentford man moved into the number ten position, allowing Christian Eriksen to move into a deeper role alongside Hojbjerg – the position he has enjoyed so much at Manchester United this season.
The change seemed to help Denmark work the ball up the pitch more comfortably in the second half, but the break seemingly revitalised Tunisia, who snapped into tackles with the same ferocity as they had managed to at the start of the match. The resultant counterattacks led to a couple of corners and a glorious opportunity for Jebali. The striker got clear of Denmark’s backline for an easy one-on-one but lost his composure looking for a pass to a teammate that wasn’t there.
Denmark thought they had opened the scoring on the 55-minute mark, but Skov Olsen’s lovely finish was ruled out for an offside in the build-up.
A peculiarity occurred around the hour mark when a spell of possession for Tunisia led to a chorus of “Ole!” from the crowd with the scores still level. It underlined the fantastic support of the North African fans that their team had fed on throughout the game.
It came just before Denmark made a triple substitution in a bid to change the game. Simon Kjaer came off the pitch, passing the captain’s armband to Eriksen as he did so. Cornelius, Lindstrom, and Mathias Jensen came on, with Dolberg and Olsen joining Kjaer on the bench. Denmark switched from their back five to a more attacking 4-3-3 shape in the process, pushing for the three points.
The change saw Eriksen higher up the pitch and he immediately threatened the Tunisian goal with a sweet strike from range that Aymen Dahman had to stretch for. The resultant corner was whipped into the six-yard box by Eriksen, with Cornelius hitting the post with a header. The drama didn’t stop there, with Tunisia immediately bursting up the pitch and having a penalty appeal denied after the ball struck a Danish arm.
Another Manchester United playmaker entered the fray on the 80-minute mark as Hannibal came on for Tunisia as they looked to maintain their intensity. He very nearly gave away a penalty shortly after his introduction, but the referee deemed the ball to have already gone out of play.
As for Denmark, penalty box entries were few and far between in the final 20 minutes of normal time, with Cornelius often dropping deep or drifting wide rather than square up to Tunisia’s three robust centre halves.
Stoppage time saw another few set-piece opportunities for the Danes, with Eriksen looking to create from a couple of corners.
A swerving cross-come-shot almost caught Dahman out, but he continued his impressive performance in goal. A Danish penalty appeal at the death for handball saw the referee head to the monitor, but he stuck with his on-field decision.
In the end, both teams ended the game goalless after a match that will have tired them out to no end. Tunisia’s impressive intensity – backed by their incredible following – gave Denmark a game far more difficult than they likely expected.