The World Cup’s unprecedented winter debut got underway on Sunday with hosts Qatar losing 2-0 to Ecuador, but this week is where football’s traditional heavyweights enter the ring. On Tuesday, Denmark and Tunisia light the Group D beacon in Al Rayyan, before France and Australia tussle it out in the evening.
The Danes travel to the Middle East under the auspices of Kasper Hjulmand, who engineered a Euro 2020 semi-final finish at last summer’s competition. With tournament experience under his belt, the Scandinavian coach will be hoping to mastermind another deep run in an elite competition for the Danish Dynamite.
Tunisia have reached back-to-back World Cups after a two-tournament absence between 2010 and 2014. Head coach Jalel Kadri knows the Middle East well having previously managed in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and he will be hoping his knowledge of the elements can help Tunisia settle in Qatar.
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Christian Eriksen’s form this year for both club and country has served well to underline his utterly remarkable return to the pitch. Having lit up west London with Brentford last season and recently bagged his first Manchester United goal, Eriksen is in form. He has also been a standout star for Denmark. His three goals in all competitions in 2022 makes him his nation’s top scorer this year, with strikes against the Netherlands, Serbia and most recently Croatia in the Nations League.
And it’s so easy to see how loved he is by the Danish nation, particularly those involved in the World Cup squad.
“I think Christian with his qualities says everything,” Denmark captain Simon Kjaer told reporters.
“We are all happy and thankful after what happened but as a football player he’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of quality, love for the game and just hanging around with the boys.”
Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand added: “Before the Euros, before everything happened with Christian, I said he was the heart and the heartbeat of the team.
“When he plays he has a fantastic way of taking decision of the rhythm of the game, feeling the game and controlling the game with his passing, with his intelligence, with his vision and also his work ethic.
“It’s great to have Christian back and also the person. He’s a fantastic player but he’s an even better person.”
Tunisia have their own potent weapon in Wahbi Khazri. The 31-year-old netted twice and assisted twice in the 2018 World Cup, including a goal and an assist against Belgium. He is a forward who rises to the big occasion, and the Montpellier man will be aiming to get his nation off to a flying, knowing Australia and then the reigning world champions France lie in wait shortly after.
26 May 2002 – Tunisia 1-2 Denmark – International Friendly
These two nations have only met once before, coming exactly two decades ago in 2002. Then managed by Morten Olsen, Denmark secured a 2-1 win at the Kimiidera Athletic Stadium in Japan thanks to goals from Jesper Gronkjaer and Ebbe Sand.