Denmark are set for an onslaught of Socceroos, with manager Kasper Hjulmand expecting them to “run at us” soon and hard. The only question left is which legs they will run, as counterpart Graham Arnold has deferred a decision on the composition of his starting XI until match day.
In the clearest indication that Australia is being taken seriously by World Cup opposition, Fifa’s tenth-ranked nation is preparing to face “a well-organised football team” with both “individual and collective” strengths when will meet to decide their fate on Wednesday night (Thursday 2:00 AEDT).
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“They really have strengths in the team, individually but especially as a team, just like us,” Hjulmand said on the eve 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.
“It’s a well-organized football club with strength in their organization and the way they work together. They attack together, defend together, and stick to a plan. They have some quality players with some strengths that we need to make sure we are aware of, both with youngsters and experienced players. We know, we also met them four years ago”.
The difference between that 1-1 draw, also during the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, is that both teams were supervised by two different coaches and Australia, at least, fielded an almost unrecognizable squad and drew only from a penalty – with the help of the VAR – to nullify Christian Eriksen’s lead.
The Socceroos have scored two goals in their three matches in Russia and both were Mile Jedinak penalties. In Qatar they also have two goals, this time both from action and of genuine quality.
Like his predecessor Bert van Marwijk, Arnold’s philosophy is rooted in pragmatic leanings and a penchant for counter-attacking, as evidenced by Craig Goodwin’s goal setup against France and Mitchell Duke’s goal setup against Tunisia.
“Perhaps,” Hjulmand said, “but I think they will turn against us. They won’t just sit, I think they’ll run at us. I think we will be put under pressure. They will try to get close to us in duels.
“I also see them attack. They pass the ball very well at first, then find spaces and holes after duels that pick up the second ball, and go ahead and run ahead. So I expect them to come out just like they have in the last two games, and that’s very, very strong.
“We should make sure we have the positions and movement that will damage Australia’s structures as much as possible, but I have great respect for the way they do [things].”
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The jargon around the Socceroos has changed markedly since Saturday’s historic win against Tunisia. Arnold may not have anticipated Hjulmand’s words of compliment because, in his pre-match press conference soon after, he said Denmark underestimated Australia’s quality.
“There may be one thing they underestimate us on, and that’s our quality,” Arnold said. “It’s not just about fighting kangaroos or, you know, Aussies fight all the time. It is also the quality that we can bring as a team as well.”
As is often the case in the final round of group games, the permutations take place live as both games take place at the same time. Denmark’s position, third, is clear: they must beat Australia, second, and hope that Tunisia, last, does not upset the already qualified France.
Related: Exciting Denmark focused on their must-win clash with Australia
The Socceroos, however, can still go through to a draw, but only if Tunisia don’t beat France. It’s a bet that Arnold says he won’t take—only a win will—even if both coaches will get live updates on the other’s game score and have in mind what they need to do.
The obvious blueprint for Australia is their performance against Tunisia: to score early, protect the lead with their lives and put the burden on their opponents to play.
Hjulmand thought it would be “a dangerous attitude”. “Because they don’t really know if they’ve progressed with a draw,” he said. “So I think they will come out very strong and try to have their periods where they will put pressure on us too.
“And, like all football matches, there will be times when we have to break down a very strong defensive unit. They have been very close in their organization and the hardest thing in football is to bring down an organization like that.”