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Half Mag / Half Zine

Denmark are braced for a Socceroos onslaught, with coach Kasper Hjulmand expecting “they’ll run against us” early and hard. The only question remaining is whose legs will be doing the running, as counterpart Graham Arnold pushed back a decision on the make-up of his starting XI until match day.

In the clearest indication yet that Australia are being taken seriously by World Cup opposition, Fifa’s 10th-ranked nation are preparing to face “a well-organised football team” with both “individual and collective” strengths when they meet to decide their fate on Wednesday night (Thursday 2am AEDT).

“They have really some strengths in the team, individually but mostly as a team – just like we do,” Hjulmand said on the eve of their final Group D match at Al Janoub Stadium. “We also define ourself as a very strong unit and a team that works very well together.

“It’s a well-organised football team with strength in the organisation and the way they work together. They attack together, they defend together, and they stick to a plan. They have some quality players with some strengths we have to be sure we are aware of, both with the young players but also the experienced players. We know this – we met them four years ago as well.”

The difference between that 1-1 draw, also during the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, is that both teams were overseen by two different managers and Australia, at least, fielded an almost-unrecognisable team and only equalised via a penalty – with help from the VAR – to cancel out Christian Eriksen’s opener.

The Socceroos scored two goals across their three matches in Russia and both were Mile Jedinak penalties. In Qatar they also have two goals, this time both from open play and of genuine quality.

Like his predecessor Bert van Marwijk, Arnold’s philosophy is rooted in pragmatic tendencies and a proclivity for counter-attacking, as evidenced in the build-up to Craig Goodwin’s goal against France and Mitchell Duke’s against Tunisia.

“Maybe,” Hjulmand said, “but I think they’ll come out strong against us. They won’t just be sitting, I think they’ll run against us. I think we’ll be put under pressure. They’ll try to get close to us in the duels.

“I see them also attack. They pass the ball very well in the beginning, and then they find some spaces and some pockets after duels that pick up the second ball, and they move forward and run forward. So I expect them to come out just like they did the last couple of matches, and that’s very, very strong.

“We should make sure that we have the positions and movement that will hurt the structures of Australia as much as possible, but I have great respect for the way they do [things].”

The alteration in language around the Socceroos has shifted markedly since Saturday’s landmark win over Tunisia. Arnold may not have been anticipating Hjulmand’s complimentary words because, in his own pre-match press conference directly afterwards, he said Denmark under-appreciated Australia’s quality.

“There could be one thing they underestimate us on, and that is our quality,” Arnold said. “It’s not just about being fighting kangaroos or, you know, the Australians are just fighting all the time. It’s also the quality that we can bring as a team as well.”

As is so often the case in the final round of group games, the permutations play out live while both games take place concurrently. Third-placed Denmark’s position is straightforward: they must beat second-placed Australia and hope last-placed Tunisia do not upset already-qualified France.

The Socceroos, however, can still progress via a draw but only if Tunisia do not defeat France. It is a gamble Arnold says he will not take – only a win will do – though both coaches will receive real-time updates on the score of the other fixture and have in the back of their mind what they must do.

The obvious blueprint for Australia is their own display against Tunisia: score early, protect the lead with their lives and put the onus on the opposition to play.

Hjulmand felt that would be “a dangerous attitude”. “Because they don’t really know if they’ve progressed with a draw,” he said. “So I think they will come out very strong and try to have their periods where they put pressure on us as well.

“And, like all football games, there will be times where we have to break down a very strong defensive unit. They have been very close in their organisation, and the toughest thing in football is to break down an organisation like that.”