SAMARA, Russia: Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel smiled when he said Denmark is lucky that Christian Eriksen is Danish.
Eriksen, an attacking midfielder who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, had an assist on Denmark’s goal in a 1-0 victory over Peru in the team’s tournament opener. His teammates and coach are confident he’ll do much more.
Eriksen’s scoring breakthrough could come Thursday when the Danes play Australia in Samara.
“In the last match, he only had one assist, right? Normally he scores the goals. And he also had an opportunity in the last match,” coach Age Hareide said. “He is a very important player for us, no doubt. He is a player who can change matches for us. We try to get him involved as much as we can.”
During World Cup qualifying, Eriksen scored 11 goals for the Danes, third-best in Europe behind Poland’s Robert Lewandowski with 16 and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo with 15.
“Christian is a world class player. We are very lucky he is Danish. We’re all quite happy about that,” Schmeichel said. “His importance to Denmark we have seen all through qualification. He is down to Earth and you wouldn’t think that he was as world class as he is.”
Yussuf Poulsen, who plays for German club RB Leipzig, scored the lone goal for the 12th-ranked Danes in their opener in Saransk. Following the match against Australia, Denmark concludes group play on Tuesday against France in Moscow.
In four previous World Cups, Denmark has emerged from its group three times, reaching the quarterfinals in 1998. The team missed the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Eriksen, now 26, was the youngest player at the World Cup in South Africa four years earlier. He has 78 appearances for the national team with 22 goals.
Australia coach Bert van Marwijk, who is Dutch, wouldn’t give any clues as to how the Socceroos would play him.
“I know Eriksen because I saw him a lot of times in Holland. And I saw him a lot in Tottenham. I know him,” van Marwijk said in a clipped response.
Hareide expects Australia to zero in on Eriksen but suggested that might not rattle the hardworking playmaker known for his free kicks.
“You know the opponent. They’re going to be very cautious and careful with him. But he’s used to this in the Premier League, right? We’ve seen in the Premier League he can succeed nevertheless,” Hareide said. “I do believe he will show good stuff at this World Cup.” —AP