Denmark are preparing for a Socceroos onslaught, with coach Kasper Hjulmand expecting “they will run against us” early and hard. The only question that remains is which legs will race, as his counterpart Graham Arnold has postponed a decision on the composition of his starting XI until match day.
In the clearest indication yet that Australia are being taken seriously by opposition to the World Cup, the Fifa 10th-ranked nation are preparing to face ‘a well organized football team’ with both “individual and collective” forces when they meet to decide their fate on Wednesday. night (Thursday 02:00 AEDT).
“They really have strengths in the squad, individually but especially as a team – just like us,” Hjulmand said ahead of their final Group D match at Al Janoub Stadium. “We also define ourselves as a very strong unit and a team that works very well together.
“They are a well organized football team with strength in the organization and the way they work together. They attack together, they defend together and they stick to a plan. They have quality players with assets that we have to be sure to know, both with young players but also with experienced players.We know that – we also encountered them four years ago.
The difference between that 1-1 draw, also in the 2018 World Cup group stage, is that the two teams were overseen by two different managers and Australia, at least, fielded an almost unrecognizable squad and only equalized via a penalty – with the help of VAR – to cancel out Christian Eriksen’s opener.
The Socceroos have scored two goals in their three matches in Russia and both were penalties from Mile Jedinak. In Qatar they also have two goals, this time both in open play and real quality.
Like his predecessor Bert van Marwijk, Arnold’s philosophy is rooted in pragmatic tendencies and a propensity to counterattack, as evidenced by the goals of Craig Goodwin against France and Mitchell Duke against Tunisia.
“Maybe,” Hjulmand said, “but I think they’ll come out strong against us. They won’t sit around, I think they’ll come up against us. I think we’re going to be put under pressure. They’ll try to get closer to us in the duels.
“I also see them attacking. They pass the ball very well at first, then they find spaces and pockets after duels that win the second ball, and they move forward and run forward. So I expect them to come out like they have in the last two games, and that’s very, very strong.
“We have to make sure we have the positions and the movement that will damage the structures of Australia as much as possible, but I have great respect for the way they do it. [things].”
The change in language around the Socceroos has changed markedly since Saturday’s historic win over Tunisia. Arnold may not have anticipated Hjulmand’s laudatory words as, in his own pre-match press conference shortly after, he said Denmark were underestimating Australia’s quality.
“There might be one thing they underestimate us on, and that’s our quality,” Arnold said. “It’s not just about fighting kangaroos or, you know, Australians are fighting all the time. It’s also about the quality that we can bring as a team.
As is often the case in the last round of group matches, swaps take place live while the two matches take place simultaneously. The position of Denmark, third, is simple: they must beat Australia, second, and hope that Tunisia, last, does not upset France, already qualified.
The Socceroos, however, can still progress via a draw but only if Tunisia fail to beat France. It’s a bet Arnold says he won’t take – only a win will do – although both coaches will receive real-time updates on the other game’s score and will have to mind what they should do.
The obvious plan for Australia is their own display against Tunisia: score early, protect their life lead and give the opposition the responsibility to play.
Hjulmand felt that would be “a dangerous attitude”. “Because they don’t really know if they have progressed with a draw,” he said. “So I think they will come out very strong and try to have their periods where they also put pressure on us.
“And, like all football games, there will be times when we have to break down a very strong defensive unit. They’ve been very close in their organization, and the hardest thing in football is to break an organization like that.”