Eriksen dazzles for Danes, VAR keeps Aussies alive in topsy-turvy Group C draw
SAMARA -- Three quick thoughts on Denmark 1-1 Australia in Group C at the World Cup on Thursday afternoon.
1. Eriksen a class apart for Denmark
A moment of Christian Eriksen brilliance and the intervention of VAR were the standout moments in this 1-1 draw between Denmark and Australia, a result much more helpful to the Danes than it is their opponents.
Eriksen's early half-volley was a lesson in perfect technique, but they couldn't build on that early advantage, and when VAR gave Mile Jedinak a chance to score from the penalty spot -- which he did as usual -- their bubble of dominance was burst.
Denmark brilliantly took the lead in the seventh minute. Eriksen provided a terrific assist in their win over Peru in the opening game, but he was the man on the end of one this time. Nicolai Jorgensen's flick was the penultimate touch in a fabulous move, but the last one capped it all.
Eriksen showed his flawless technique to get on top of a rising ball, striking with perfect power and control and into the roof of the net. In a World Cup dominated by set pieces and own-goals, a team goal like that served as a palette-cleanser. What a player the Tottenham man is.
Denmark were on top for most of the half, steady and in control while Australia looked frantic. But shortly before half time, Bert van Marwijk's side were back in it, thanks to VAR. Yussuf Poulsen, Denmark's match-winner in the opener, threw up an arm when going for a header, and while the appeal was initially ignored, the referee was advised to consult the pitchside monitor.
The penalty was given and Jedinak slid home just as he did against France, making him responsible for all of Australia's past five competitive goals -- four penalties, one free-kick.
Australia were much better in the second half, more confident and assertive, but they couldn't break through. They will now need to win the final match against Peru to stand any chance, and will probably have to do so by a healthy margin.
But for that to happen, they will need someone other than Jedinak to step up.
2. VAR saves Australia from early exit
It doesn't necessarily change the fact that introducing a nascent system into the World Cup, before the kinks were worked out, was a rash decision. But, in the World Cup so far, VAR has worked, the latest example of that coming in the first half of this game.
It was a surprise that Poulsen's handball wasn't given in real time, and while a little more of the play had elapsed than was ideal before referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz consulted the replay, he changed his own decision swiftly.
And correctly, too. Poulsen's arm was waving above his head, and prevented the ball from heading towards goal. One could argue this point, because handball is that most curious of offences in that it should be objective but more often is highly subjective. If there was any debate about this decision, it was because of the confusion around the definition of handball, not VAR.
And Australia needed it. They were in trouble before the penalty was given, the performance of a team who were scared of losing rather than determined to win. The penalty, in Jedinak's safest hands, turned this into a contest.
All of which might be a concern to them as they go into the final group game against Peru. When their last five competitive strikes have come from dead balls struck by a Championship defensive midfielder, it suggests a troubling lack of firepower. It's no wonder people have been calling for the return of 38-year-old Tim Cahill.
3. Danes need to support their star man
It's very easy, when an international team has such an obvious superstar among a collection of more workaday players, to suggest there is too much pressure and emphasis on that man and that his teammates are not helping him enough.
But sometimes cliches are true. Eriksen's opener was brilliant, the sort of finish only a handful of players in the world could manage and you'd be sure they could do it again. But that should have kicked off a period of domination that decided the game, Denmark's class clearly showing and translating into goals.
Instead, they seemed to kick back, happy with their early work and not quite seeing the need for more urgency. Australia were there for the taking, a team skittish knowing that defeat would see them on the plane home before the tournament had really started.
They controlled play, but didn't find the net again, and when VAR intervened their impetus disappeared, never really to come back. Wingers Poulsen and Pione Sisto were wasteful, Jorgensen eventually replaced by the giant former Cardiff striker Andreas Cornelius, and even new Borussia Dortmund midfielder Thomas Delaney was quiet.
Delaney summed up their second half performance quite neatly late on when he collected the ball on the left side of the box, and instead of measuring a cross to one of a couple of colleagues in decent positions, he thrashed to across the face of goal, to nobody in particular.
A draw was fine for Denmark, the win in the opening game having afforded them some breathing room. But Eriksen's teammates need to help him out a little more if they are to make a real impact on this tournament.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.