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Denmark’s Christian Eriksen (r) gets a shot against Tunisia’s Issam Jebali. © Hassan Ammar/AP/dpa

The Danes had imagined this World Cup start differently. The secret favorite disappointed in the 0-0 draw against Tunisia. It was a big day for just one player.

Al-Rajjan – Despite the disappointment, Christian Eriksen remained completely relaxed. “As everyone knows, I couldn’t be there for long last time. That’s why I’m very happy to be playing for Denmark again,” said the star of the European Championship semi-finalists after a meager 0-0 win against Tunisia at the start of the World Cup. Both hands were casually in the pockets.

17 months ago, the Danish playmaker suffered cardiac arrest after 43 minutes of the first European Championship game. The Danish start in the World Cup in Qatar was also his comeback at a major international tournament. None of the Danes could be satisfied with that: the result was disappointing, the performance poor. The secret favorite of this World Cup remained well below the recently increased expectations. Nevertheless, Eriksen only said calmly: “We had expected three points – now it’s only one.”

“We played too slow”

From a purely sporting point of view, the Danes’ problems were expressed in the fact that Eriksen, the team’s most important player, had to change his position several times on the pitch. He started as a hidden winger in a 3-4-3 system, then switched to defensive midfield and towards the end to attacking midfield.

“Christian is good at everything. We were hoping to give him more balls,” said coach Kasper Hjulmand. “But we didn’t have a good structure. We played too slowly. Of course we are not satisfied.”

For the Danes, as well as for their best player, there have been almost only happy days since his collapse. Eriksen now plays with a pacemaker and was signed by English record champions Manchester United in the summer.

His team first marched into the European Championship semi-finals and then impressively confidently through the World Cup qualification. Most recently, Hjulmand’s team also defeated the reigning world champion and next World Cup opponent France (Saturday, 5 p.m., ARD and Magenta TV) in the Nations League – twice.

“Tunisia had a home game”

However, the Danes could not cope with the massive resistance of the Tunisians. Tens of thousands of fans loudly supported the outsider from North Africa. “Tunisia had a home game,” said Atalanta Bergamo full-back Joakim Maehle. “The other teams will also have problems with Tunisia.”

Especially when they get down to business against Australia and France like midfielder Aissa Laidouni did in the first minute. The 25-year-old tackled Eriksen hard but fairly on the touchline and celebrated this action with a cheering gesture towards the crowd. “This is the most important competition in the world. It’s important to come onto the pitch with a lot of energy and determination,” said Laidouni. And that’s how his team played.

Eriksen “gives a lot of energy and creativity”

The bottom line is that the Danes have now made a World Cup start that cost a lot of energy and brought in little. That was true on the field – and that also applies to their protests against the human rights situation in the host country Qatar.

Denmark’s Joachim Andersen (l) and Tunisia’s Youssef Msakni fight for the ball. © Darko Bandic/AP/dpa

Even the training shirts with the inscription “Human rights for all” were banned by FIFA. Then, like all other European captains, Simon Kjaer refrained from wearing a captain’s armband against Tunisia, which is intended to promote tolerance and diversity. “I can understand when someone says: ‘Now take the yellow card’,” said the AC Milan defense chief. “But then I would like to see what the person says if there is a duel after five minutes where I happen to get a yellow card – and then bring the team and Denmark into this situation.”

Tunisia’s Ali Abdi complains about an action. © Ariel Schalit/AP/dpa

The sporting situation at this World Cup should now save one person in particular: Christian Eriksen. France and Australia are the next two group opponents. And defender Joachim Andersen said: “He gives us a lot of energy and creativity. We need him to perform at the highest level.” dpa

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