Danish fans gathering in Moscow ahead of the World Cup Group C match against France have spoken of their team’s dependency on midfielder Christian Eriksen as the key man for their hopes in Russia.
Before the tournament in Russia, an image went viral of a T-shirt highlighting Denmark’s supposed tactics for the tournament in Russia, which consisted exclusively of passing to Eriksen until the team scored.
While the image was half meant in jest – and was somewhat harsh on Eriksen’s teammates – it summed up the notion that the midfield playmaker is as integral to his team’s chances as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are to the hopes of their respective nations.
Eriksen has emerged as one of the world’s leading playmakers in recent years, combining an unerring eye for a defence-splitting pass with the ability to score from all over the pitch.
Indeed, Eriksen was on target with a stunning volley in the 1-1 group stage draw with Australia in the Danes' last World Cup match, and is seen as instrumental in the team’s chances against France in Moscow on Tuesday.
Denmark go into the game on four points - two behind the French - and will likely need at least a draw to secure their spot in the last 16.
Ahead of the game, Danish fans were clear about Eriksen’s importance for the team.
“If he performs, Denmark performs. If he doesn’t, Denmark doesn’t,” said Markus, who is in Moscow with a group of friends for the France game.
Another group of Danes nearby were similarly emphatic: “About 99 percent depends on him. He’s all of our offence, it all depends on him,” they said.
Eriksen, 26, has scored 17 goals in his last 20 games for Denmark, also registering six assists in that period.
Denmark would arguably not even be in Russia had it not been for his heroics in qualifying, when he scored 11 goals – including an all-important hat-trick in the 5-1 play-off second leg demolition of Ireland.
The midfielder came through the ranks at Ajax, and Danish fans in Moscow said that his prodigious talents were forged in the mould of the Dutch giants.
“Well, he got trained by Ajax, got in under their youth program, my younger brother played with him, I believe that he blossomed under the Ajax program, but he was always a massive talent,” said one fan.
Eriksen has also flourished since moving to Tottenham Hotspur, and in particular under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino. Many have now tipped him for a big-money move away from White Hart Lane, which could depend on what happens in Russia.
However, Denmark fans are more divided over what his status is in comparison to greats of the past, in particular Michael Laudrup.
“It’s a very difficult question, people say that Eriksen maybe even plays better for the national team, but Laudrup had an amazing club career,” said Denmark fan Joachim.
Others were adamant that Eriksen had some way to go to reach the levels of Laudrup – and also took issue with the pronouncement of Danish goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel, who has frequently declared that countryman Eriksen is better than the world’s most expensive player, Neymar.
Any day of the week, and I’ve said this before, I would have Eriksen over Neymar. Who’s with me?— Peter Schmeichel (@Pschmeichel1) June 21, 2018
“Not even close,” said Michael, when asked to compare Eriksen with the Brazil star. “Look at the clubs Neymar has played at, Eriksen is at Tottenham. He’s not a legend, not yet.”
While the question of legend status may have to wait for Eriksen, one thing is for sure: the fate of the Danish team in Russia rests largely on his shoulders.