How Australia's 'New Generation' can beat Denmark
The Socceroos could qualify for the last 16 at a World Cup for only the second time in their history against Denmark. They need a point (or three) out of their final group game against the Euro 2020 dark horses and semi-finalists. But how can they get a result?
Australia celebrate their first World Cup win in 12 years. Their last was a 2-1 success over Serbia in 2010. (Twitter: @Socceroos)
The Socceroos picked up an all-important win last Saturday night against North African opponents Tunisia. It has allowed them an opportunity to unite the country in a way no other sport has ever done. They could reach the Round of 16 of the World Cup, having only ever done so once before, in 2006.
The task at hand? Win against Denmark, or draw and pray that France beats Tunisia in the other Matchday 3 fixture in Group D.
The Danish team lineup side by side before their first group game against Tunisia. (Twitter: @DBUfodbold)
Denmark is a potent, well-organised team who have struggled in their first two games, drawing 0-0 against Tunisia and losing to France 2-1. They are a country that boasts some big-name players playing at massive European clubs, particularly in their central midfield duo. Christian Eriksen, currently playing for English Premier League giants Manchester United, needs little to no introduction as one of the world's most technically gifted ball-playing midfielders.
Next to him? Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. A strong, aggressive, old-fashioned box-to-box midfielder. The Tottenham man's style of play compliments Eriksen's to a tee, very similar to that of Manchester United duo Paul Scholes and Roy Keane in the early 2000s.
Arguably the most influential player for the Danes is their left wing-back, Joakim Mæhle, who plays in the Serie A for Atalanta. In his 33 games for Denmark, Mæhle has been involved in 15 goals, scoring nine and providing six assists. His role in this team is similar to that of his club. With Atalanta, he plays as a left-sided full-back/midfielder in a 3-4-3 formation, marauding up and down the wing whilst keeping his width. This position allows him to go inside onto his favoured right foot. Or he takes on the opposing right full-back and crosses with his left, which he can also do comfortably.
So with that being said, how will Australia find a way to gain all three points against many people's choice for the tournament's dark horse? It's going to come from their midfield.
Many questioned Graham Arnold's tactics in the first two fixtures. But Australia will play against a 3-4-3 setup similar to Tunisia's. In the first half of that game, Australia ran rampant through many fluid passes into midfield or chipped passes that skipped this area. The tactic is how Australia scored their first goal on Saturday night, with Harry Souttar launching the attack directly into Mitch Duke.
A dual midfield partnership of Eriksen and Højbjerg may weaken Denmark on the night. Australia's trio of Mooy, Irvine/Devlin, and McGree/Hrustic may be able to outrun and physically overpower the Danish midfield.
Denmark's back three is headlined by one of Barcelona's recent signings, Andreas Christensen. Given Duke has cemented his spot as the starting striker, he will again play a vital role in disrupting the defensive trio or partnership he faces. Especially in a game like this, where Denmark's primary central defender is weak in the air and may be one of the least aggressive Duke has faced in this tournament.
The right-back spot for Australia was the only change in the last game against Tunisia due to Nathaniel Atkinson's injury. He had a rough first game on the world stage, going head-to-head against one of the world's best, French winger Kylian Mbappe.
Fran Karacic was the replacement against Tunisia and had a solid game. Although not tasked with as arduous a task as Atkinson's, Karacic still proved a worthy candidate to start the final group game. He could push Australia further forward in a potential Round of 16 fixture.
Whoever the right-back is, they may be tasked with the most critical challenge of the night: to keep Mæhle at bay. Mathew Leckie will need to help by dropping back when necessary and providing cover. He also needs to prevent any early crosses that the Atalanta star may put into the area, should he be given enough time and space.
Arnold has been critiqued in the Australian media for his 'defensive' tactics in the opening two fixtures. But his first-half approach in both games was quite the opposite. Should the Socceroos start strong again, they may prove too much for a Danish side struggling to score goals lately. With Arnold seemingly wanting a more defensive approach in the second half of games, it could be more than frustrating for the Red and Whites. They will push forward at every chance they get to save the red faces that could follow should they fail to qualify in a group all Europeans saw as a two-horse race.
Another solid performance by Souttar and Kye Rowles, all but now cemented as a possible defensive duo for the next decade to come, will be vital to another clean sheet. With the help of an experienced head like Mathew Ryan at the back, Australia may do what no one thought was possible and qualify for the Round of 16 for only the second time.
Overall, Australia will be coming into this game high on confidence after their first World Cup win in 12 years, whilst the Danes will be fired up. They want to reassure the world that their fantastic Euro 2020 campaign was no fluke. It's arguably a must-win clash for both nations, and it will surely be a spectacle.
Prediction: 2-0 Australia, with Mitch Duke bagging his second goal of the tournament!
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