SARANSK (Reuters) - Their reputation for “Danish dynamite” may have been built on the flair of their attacking play, but the 2018 version of Denmark owes more to the dogged defending they displayed when defeating Peru 1-0 in their World Cup opener on Saturday.
Norwegian coach Age Hareide may have moved away from the free-flowing model favored by his predecessor Morten Olsen, but all of a sudden Denmark are back to their best as they hunt in packs and attack at pace.
“You have to acknowledge the performance of (goalkeeper) Kasper (Schmeichel), but also of our defense, of the whole team,” the coach told a media conference after his side’s victory in their Group C opener.
“This is our fifth game without conceding a goal. It’s very tough against World Cup opponents,” he added.
Indeed, this victory marked the first time in Denmark’s history that they have kept five consecutive clean sheets.
They limped out of the 2010 World Cup at the group stage and missed the 2014 tournament entirely, and when they were beaten in a playoff by neighbors Sweden in a playoff for a spot at Euro 2016, Olsen stepped aside in favor of Hareide.
Ignoring the fact that Denmark’s footballers often end up at top Dutch clubs renowned for their passing styles, the no-nonsense Norwegian has adopted a more pragmatic approach similar to that of Sweden and Iceland that is paying dividends.
Led by the marauding midfield presence of Thomas Delaney, the Danes played the ball long and snapped into tackles all over the field against Peru, careful not to underestimate their South American opponents.
“Peru is a very good team. We have a lot of respect for the Peruvians. They got very little out of this game, they probably deserved more,” Hareide admitted.
Despite his innate pragmatism, there is still room for creativity in his team, and once again it was Christian Eriksen who fashioned the opportunity for Yussuf Poulsen to score Denmark’s winner.
Hareide revealed that his team struggled to come to terms with the occasion and that they depended on Schmeichel to keep them in the game as Peru turned up the heat.
“I do think we were a bit afraid of the atmosphere, the intensity of it. We haven’t practiced that very much, but we have practiced a lot at being a team,” Hareide explained.
“The morale of the team was very good. We were under pressure, they came forward with so many men ... It’s good to have a good goalkeeper, let me put it that way!”
Writing by Philip O'Connor, reporting by Andy Cawthorne; Editing by Ian Chadband