January 31, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

World Cup Preview: Group D

Kasper Dolberg (No. 12) and the Denmark squad

Kasper Dolberg (No. 12) and the Denmark teamPhoto: Getty Images

It’s been credited with the theory that this is going to be a really dope World Cup – that the short run-up, the injuries everywhere (not clear, the number of injuries is so unusual but let’s get on with that), the weird setting – and so on a team from scratch could make a run, probably assess your betting/investing opportunities. There is not much money to be made with France, Argentina or Brazil. You want a bomber. The kind of score that sets you up for a couple of weeks. Maybe even a month. One to remember forever. You want the 18-1, which is closing hard on the outside, to just get up on the wire to close a pick 4 for you in Santa Anita. The high handicappers in horse racing are constantly chasing.

So you can look at Denmark at 28-1 or +2800 if you prefer and think “Yes, that’s it” and already envision the Wagyu steak you’re going to get on the night of December 18th (although given the finals start time is 10:00am EST, it might be the brunch, depending on how you swing).

Certainly there are enticing aspects to going with the Danes for such a price. Semi-finalists at the Euros, where they put England into extra time at Wembley. They only surrendered thanks to an own goal and Harry Kane rebounding from his own penalty. They have a unique togetherness thanks to the collapse and recovery of Christian Eriksen during Euro 2020(1). And now Eriksen is back! They went their qualifying group. And in their last ‘competitive’ game (how competitive the Nations League really was is up to you) they defeated France 2-0 in Copenhagen in September.

Lots of good mojo here. You can also jump through a few different systems, moving between a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. They have a couple of players who really come alive when they wear the national team jersey. Starting to see the boxcar payout, aren’t you?

Coming to the brass tax, yes, there’s a lot to like. Eriksen’s return is the biggest story and he is still Denmark’s best and most important player. While they sorted out his absence through a group effort in the summer of 2021, they can still be a bit blunt without him. And he helps solve one of their problems, which is the lack of a real, trustworthy striker who can carve open play or set pieces into chances that anyone can finish. And with Denmark he gets a platform from Pierre Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney/Matthias Jensen that he doesn’t get at ManUnited. He can go anywhere and do whatever he wants with Denmark. Again, set pieces with the short run-up are perhaps even more important than normal and there are few you’d rather deliver than Eriksen.

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They have one of Italy’s best defenders, Simon Kjær, who was the backbone for AC Milan’s Scudetto last season. They have an Atalanta full-back/full-back in Thomas Mæle and as we all know having Atalanta full-back/full-back is always a ticket to fun because what you really get is a wide forward/winger/full-back at the same Time. That’s how Atalatna plays and that’s how every player they consider worthy of one of their full-back spots plays. Højbjerg is one of those players who just becomes something different when they play for his country. Let’s just say they know who they are.

But there are some red flags. The big problem is that there is no one here that they can count on to consistently score goals. Their most likely starter is Kasper Dolberg, who scored in that win against France and scored in the Euro but hardly plays with Sevilla at the moment. Wildcard is Jesper Lindstrøm, who has scored six goals in 13 appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt so far this season but has never played for the national team (he is only 22). They worry that despite all the great play, Denmark could end up in a game where they just can’t finish it all. And it only takes one of these to irreparably ruin your tournament.

At the back, Andreas Christensen is not a regular for Chelsea like he was when the Euros took place, but he is in and out of the line-up for Barcelona. While Kasper Schmeichel has a great reputation, he’s now 36 and it’s been a few seasons since he was a plus keeper. He might be able to conjure up a final lunge, but he’s not jumping off the side in this state as a keeper who can go for a team Patrick Roy ’86.

And some of the past results that make them so tasty aren’t quite what they seem. Despite putting England into overtime, they were mostly pushed around in that match (2.7-0.2 in xG). They were lucky enough to even get past the Czechs in the quarterfinals. Their qualifying group was pretty damn soft. Fair play to them, they pushed through like a good team should but they don’t have great results to show for themselves.

And if they don’t win that group, Argentina will be in the last 16, which is… a problem. Should they upset France and win the group, it’s the hanging curve of Mexico or Poland or Saudi Arabia in the round of 16. Then it could be England or the Dutch or (trying not to swoon) the USA. So yes, their second game against the defending champions is just a bit of a hassle.

Ah, France. It has not been a pleasant path for teams that have won the previous World Cup in recent history. Germany spit out most of their guts in Russia and were knocked out on penalties by Russia in the round of 16. Spain didn’t get out of the group in Brazil. Neither did Italy in 2010.

And it wasn’t exactly a smooth build for Les Bleus, but it never is. After all, they’re a bit damn French. The midfield that won the trophy last time out isn’t here at all as both N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba won’t fit. That leaves Aurélien Tchouaméni and Eduardo Camavinga as anchors in the middle. Which is hardly the worst of fates as it is midfield that currently also anchors Real Madrid as it leaves tire marks all over La Liga. But they are inexperienced at this highest level and there is very little depth there. Unless you trust Adrien Rabiot, and if you do, chances are you have a crypto portfolio.

Ok but they still have that front line where Kylian Mbappe can play against Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann and when that doesn’t work there’s Christopher Nkunku or Kingsley Coman to change things up if they need it. So you have the best striker in France, the best striker in Spain and maybe the best striker in Germany to score goals. Pretty easy to see a chump like Didier Deschamps win a World Cup now as a manager.

Defenders have plenty of options too, with William Saliba currently anchoring the Premier League leaders. Or maybe Raphael Varane or Dayot Upamecano is more your speed. Or maybe you’re a Presnel Kimpembe guy or girl. As a full-back there is either Hernández (Lucas or Theo) and Benjamin Pavard. Throw an arrow at a board and France will launch a menacing defense and attack. It’s just a question of whether they can connect the two.

While Australia are neutral favorites simply for speaking out about the ridiculousness of this tournament in Qatar, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be around long to stage their protest. This is a squad made up of A-Leaguers and Scottish Premier League players, with only one being at Celtic or Rangers. They failed to beat either Japan or Saudi Arabia in their qualifying group, the only real teams they saw. They needed penalties to get past Peru and qualify for the tournament. Know them early or don’t know them at all.

Tunisia emerge as probably Africa’s weakest qualifier. The last time we saw them in a tournament, they lost to Burkina-Faso in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and then edged past Mali 1-0 over two games in qualifying. They will hope that the troika of Aissa Laïdouni, Wahbi Khazri and Youssef Msakni can send a thunderbolt to either France or Denmark (something like that), while perhaps clinching only their third World Cup victory over Australia.

Manager most likely gets the red card

Australian Graham Arnold. Deschamps spends too much time just watching what’s happening in front of him with a confused look on his face, Kasper Hjulmand is just too cool, so it’s between Arnold and Tunisian Jalel Kadri. We go with the Aussie to lose his calm.

Best Jerseys

They’re the chalk in many ways, but you really can’t go wrong with the understated French look.

Schedule

Tuesday, November 22 – Denmark – Tunisia (8:00am EST), France – Australia (2:00pm EST)

Saturday, November 26 – Tunisia – Australia (5:00am EST), France – Denmark (2:00pm EST)

Wednesday, November 30 – France – Tunisia, Denmark – Australia (10:00am EST)