Coming up against the monstrous likes of Germany, Holland, and Portugal was a task beyond daunting for Morten Olsen and his Denmark side heading into the Euro 2012 tournament.
Three games later and, as was widely thought, the Danes are packing their bags, ready to go home after missing out on the top two places in Group B, otherwise known as the “group of death.”
It’s not a straight case of Denmark proving the “whipping boys” of the group, however. They actually acquitted themselves quite well, as a 1-0 win versus World Cup 2010 finalists Holland would suggest. They also gave Portugal a good run for their money and were unfortunate not to escape from that enthralling encounter with a point, having put in a determined performance to get back on level terms after initially going behind 2-0.
A late Silvestre Varela goal saw their earnest efforts go up in flames and perhaps cost them dearly in the end as a 2-1 defeat to heavy favorites Germany on the final matchday saw them finish 3rd with 3 points, sealing their fate. Morten Olsen reflects:
“Maybe we lost it by not holding Portugal to a draw,” he said. “But there are so many ifs and buts. When all is said and done, we have done very well at this tournament.
“I’m not disappointed with the team,” he went on to say. “Absolutely not. They have put in a fantastic effort, and there were times when we played good football. We were taking on the world elite and showed we could compete with them.
“We are disappointed not to have gone through, but this team has a future. Compliments to all of our players – they played a great tournament and it is only minor details which make a difference.”
Indeed an honest, accurate assessment of his team and it’s performance against seemingly overwhelming odds. However, the last of Olsen’s words quoted above are especially true in more ways than one.
Denmark were solid at the back, except for a few — costly — errors. They used their defensive strength to their advantage, basing their play largely on counter-attacking — understandable when you consider the magnitude of the opposition they had to face. However, while they found a measure of success in doing so (their 1-0 victory over Holland), this tactic came at a cost — they lacked quality going forward.
While Michael Krohn-Dehli and Nicklas Bendtner got Denmark by with a combined 4 goals scored, the other half of the team’s attacking front 4 — Christian Eriksen and Dennis Rommedahl — did little to help the cause.
Perhaps it was a bit unreasonable to expect 33 year old Rommedahl to provide a sizeable impact with games in such quick succession; after offering nothing versus Holland, he picked up an injury versus Portugal and was unable to play versus Germany. However, Eriksen is one of football’s brightest young prospects. Lauded as the “new Michael Laudrup” in and out of his homeland, the classic No. 10 playmaker was touted as a possible star of the tournament by many.
It was widely said that perhaps the 2010 World Cup was too much for him at the time but, 2 years on and with gradual development seen at Ajax, it was hoped that he would’ve used this Euro 2012 tournament as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, things just didn’t go to plan.
“I would like to create more chances, be more decisive,” said Christian Eriksen after Denmark’s defeat to Portugal. “I was involved more in the game against Portugal than against Holland, but it wasn’t enough to really open up the game.
“There are some different conditions when you play for the national team than when you play for a club team. You don’t get as many chances in the national team.”
Eriksen has a point. Chances don’t readily present themselves, especially at international level. It was a lesson he was made to learn for the second major tournament running.
As evidenced by his heat maps, Eriksen’s best game was the Portugal match he made mention of. He was involved in this game a lot more than in the other two.
His heat map for this match dismisses any suggestions that he has a problem with his movement; he dropped deep as well as drifted out wide to try and affect the play. In fact, it was this game in which he had the most touches of the ball (56), compared to the 40 he had versus the Netherlands and the 44 versus Germany. Still, though, there was no telling impact from him.
In addition to needing the ball at his feet often, a playmaker needs options in support of him otherwise his role is made difficult to fulfill. He also has to have the ability to take matters into his own hands when necessary in order to make something happen. Unfortunately, Eriksen neither had the support he needed nor showed the desire to take any of the games by the scruff of the neck.
Euro 2012 Statistics (Attacking Midfielders)
|Player||Average passes||Pass completion%||Key passes||Through balls||Long Balls||Crosses||Dribbles||Shots||Country Poss%|
The table above highlights the impact of the more outstanding attacking midfielders of Euro 2012 in comparison to Christian Eriksen.
The fact that Denmark saw little of the ball is no excuse as Luka Modric and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s countries — Croatia and Sweden, respectively — saw less of the ball than the Danes yet both players established themselves as key figures for their side.
The case of Ibrahimovic is more impressive given his pass completion is the second-lowest of all the listed players. Taking the amount of key passes he averages per game into consideration, it’s evident that Ibrahimovic’s use of the ball in the final third is immaculate, as is his movement and desire to take matters into his own hands. His good movement in particular shouldn’t come as a surprise given he is naturally a striker.
Modric didn’t make that many final passes, but that’s only because he dropped deep very often given Croatia used 2 strikers for the majority of the tournament. His job was to keep things ticking in midfield, which he did in an eye-catching manner, as his dribbling statistic indicates.
Noteworthy is that Eriksen is the only attacking midfielder listed who didn’t complete a single dribble. He isn’t the type of player to run tirelessly at defenders; he prefers to pass. But he certainly has the ability to side-step an opponent or two. He had the freedom to roam into space, particularly versus Holland and Portugal when he played centrally. That said, given the lack of support as well as the fact that he hardly saw the ball, he should’ve done more to make things happen on his own, perhaps taking a leaf out of Ibrahimovic’s book.
As was mentioned, though, the young Dane’s lacklustre performance at Euro 2012 is not all his fault. Morten Olsen’s tactics weren’t prepared with Eriksen primarily in mind. The fact that he was mercilessly shunted to the right side of midfield in a 4-1-4-1 setup versus Germany — a game in which he struggled to even get out of his own half — cements that fact. Denmark, although they tried to play attractive football, was built to be mainly a solid defensive unit. Thus, the team was built around defensive midfielder William Kvist rather than Eriksen. Interestingly enough, Kvist saw most of the ball for Denmark, completing 51 passes per game.
Additionally, Eriksen was matched up against the likes of Nigel De Jong, Mark van Bommel, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Miguel Veloso in midfield. Getting the better of them was always going to be an uphill task and they all went on to successfully — and easily — mark Eriksen out of the respective games.
He may have had another tournament to forget, but Christian Eriksen is still very young and this should prove to be another learning experience for him.
“He is still only 20 years old, so I don’t like that there is so much pressure put on him,” said Olsen in defense of his young prodigy after the Holland game. “He’s done well as a team player. In between, he’s been doing some things that hold a lot of promise for the future.”
The emphasis is on “future.”
There’s no doubting the quality of Christian Eriksen. Euro 2012 may not have been his time to shine, but the experiences he has had will surely help mold him into the player he seems destined to become, one that is surely worth the wait.
–Stats courtesy of whoscored
*- Stats for Ibrahimovic and Nasri updated to include their third round games.
–Quotes and heat maps courtesy of ESPN Soccernet