Few people know more about both Danish and Australian football than ex-Middlesbrough and Fortuna Köln striker Mikkel Beck. The 45-year-old was part of Denmark’s so called golden generation of players in the 1990s, winning 19 international caps alongside the likes of Peter Schmeichel and the Laudrup brothers, before retiring in 2002 and moving into the world of player management.
Two of his current clients are in Russia and members of Australia’s 2018 World Cup squad – goalkeeping duo Mat Ryan and Danny Vukovic, both of whom have benefited from the Dane’s guidance and experience. And with his home nation and the Socceroos set to meet in a crunch Group C encounter, Beck has ensured he has kept a close eye on the tournament.
“Australia did well, they did themselves proud,” Beck says of Australia’s performance against France in their opener, despite a 2-1 defeat. “I think they defended very well. I would have liked to see them throw more at them, playing a little bit more forward. Be a little bit more confident on the ball itself. But defensively they were very safe, very strong and France just didn’t find any kind of ideas to unlock that defence.”
While the Socceroos ultimately slipped up in Kazan, Denmark were more fortunate in Saransk against Peru. Despite being on the back foot for most of the match and La Blanquirroja missing a penalty and several good chances, Denmark escaped with a 1-0 victory. Now France and Denmark are in the box set to advance from Group C, with the pressure on Australia and Peru.
“It was a great result for Denmark,” Beck says. “Denmark is right now only thinking about the result and nothing else. We could maybe say Peru deserved to win the game, they had more chances. But in football when you don’t take your chances then you can lose. Denmark, they scored on that one real chance they had, so it shows a certain quality. But Peru had some chances and they missed a penalty so it wasn’t an easy game for Denmark certainly, and it was a game that Denmark could have lost on the day.
“Denmark are very, very happy with the result, they are very confident because victories give confidence and now they are unbeaten in their last 15 games. That shows a lot of quality. But I don’t see any real favourite in the [Denmark v Australia] game. It’s a 50-50 game for me and the best team on the day will win it. I even see a draw as a possibility.”
The Socceroos need to defeat the Danes to keep their World Cup hopes alive, as a draw may not be enough when they face Peru. Beck believes the key for a green and gold victory is to make sure Tom Rogic is more involved and threatening then he was against Les Bleus.
“Anything is possible of course, but they will have to be better offensively to beat Denmark,” he says. “They will be very good in defence, they have the two central defenders and Maty [Ryan]. But they need to find a way to find Rogic more. Rogic wasn’t really in the [France] game. I think that was a problem for the team because he should be the link between the midfield and the strikers. The fact he wasn’t in the game meant the strikers never really got any balls, so I think that’s the key to their game offensively, to get Rogic more into the game.”
With Danish midfielder William Kvist ruled out of the tournament with broken ribs suffered against Peru, Lasse Schöne is likely to start against Australia. While Australia has attacking issues to solve, Denmark have their own offensive problems. The Danes might have come into the World Cup on a 15-game unbeaten run, with victories over Mexico, Panama, Ireland, Poland and Montenegro heading into Russia. But at the World Cup they are without veteran forward Nicklas Bendtner, and are still searching for a regular goal-scorer.
“Denmark’s performance was a bit of a copy of the Australian one,” Beck admits. “The Danish defence was outstanding on the day but the strikers really struggled to get into the game. They weren’t really doing it on the day. Again, the same thing counts for Denmark up front, the offensive players have to show more confidence and more belief. They can also make it difficult for Australia, but Denmark needs to be better offensively then they were in the first game.”
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