Denmark – Tunisia: Spirited Tunisia Impose Draw On Uninspired Denmark (0-0)
Prompted by strong fan support, Tunisia bravely pressed a slow Denmark and deservedly came away with a point. The Danes never got in full control of the midfield and suffered the intensity and commitment of a highly determined Tunisia. In the end, both teams lacked accuracy in the final third, sharing the first goalless draw of this World Cup.
Tactical analysis and match report written by Giovanni Cesaroni.
Denmark and Tunisia kicked off Group D of the 2022 Qatar World Cup at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, in front of a large red crowd. Despite the two countries sharing the same colors, the Tunisian supporters seemed to take the biggest share of the seats available in the stadium, creating a vibrant atmosphere for this much-awaited occasion.
Denmark’s head coach, Kasper Hjulmand had options to choose from, going for a 3-4-3 shape with a lineup that pretty much followed on the Euro 2020 campaign: in front of experienced goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, captain Simon Kjaer, Joachim Andersen and Andreas Christensen formed the back three, Joakim Maehle and Rasmus Kristensen were the wide midfielders while Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg patrolled the center, finishing with the dynamic front three composed by Christian Eriksen, Andreas Skov Olsen and Kasper Dolberg.
Tunisia’s manager Jalal Qaderi responded with a 3-4-2-1 formation. Aymen Dahmen was the goalkeeper, Motassar Talbi, Yassine Meriah, Dylan Bronn were the center-backs from left to right, followed by a midfield four with the double pivot Ellyes Skhiri and Aïssa Laïdouni and the wide midfielders Ali Abdi and Mohamed Dräger. Youssef Msakni and Anis Ben Slimane played in support of the center-forward Issam Jebali.
Danes taken aback by Tunisia’s intensity
In stark contrast with the early expectations of Denmark enjoying the majority of possession in front of a defensive and cautious Tunisia, the North African side started with great intensity, pressing Denmark and causing frequent ball loss in their buildup.
The three Tunisian offensive players went man-against-man with the three opposing center-backs, with the striker Jebali moving between Kjaer and Højbjerg, the wide midfielders preventing Denmark from progressing the ball through the sides with Maehle and Kristensen.
As Denmark tried to use less intricate passing networks, opting for their classic switches of play with Eriksen being the midfield creator, Tunisia kept an aggressive stance, winning the lion’s share of the duels and sliding in with tackles as soon as the ball was poorly touched by the Denmark players.
Tunisia’s central midfielder Aïssa Laïdouni perfectly embodied this aggressive and direct attitude, not only by engaging in duels with great determination and spirit but also advancing the ball with purpose, looking for the creative players upfront and pressing the opponents to regain control of the ball and block their attacks. His teammate Skhiri was the holding midfielder who guarded the back line and kept his position, taking up the buildup responsibility in a three plus one buildup routine.
Tunisia played with confidence and great team spirit, believing in their own game plan: they refused to sit back and wait, rather going at the opposition and raising the flow of the match, backing up the vocal support coming from the stands and pushing up the wingers as soon as they won the ball back.
6th Minute: As Tunisia presses high, Denmark try to find alternative routes to progress the ball. Kristensen advances and takes the right half space with Skov Olsen coming deep to receive the ball. At the same time, Eriksen roams freely to offer a further option with Maehle looking to take space forward as his teammate joins the midfield, becoming the left winger. The shape remains unchanged, but the players rotate all around the pitch.
Schmeichel comes to the rescue
Denmark’s ball progression lacked pace and purpose: at times, they tried to rotate their lines with Kristensen pushing up and rolling in the center while Maehle, on the left side, occupied the space vacated by a mobile Eriksen, delivering crosses in the box.
Minutes before the end of the first half, it was, in fact, Tunisia to be the more threatening side as Schmeichel performed an outstanding save to prevent Jebali from putting his team ahead.
31st Minute: Tunisia’s final third strategy revolves around the movement of the three offensive players, who play next to each other, almost vertically, as Jebali comes deep to linkup play while Msakni and Ben Slimane exchange the ball with quick passes and dribble away from pressure, dragging at least one center-back out of position. This creates space for the wide midfielders to attack as done by Dräger in this occasion, on the right side.
Battling on set-pieces
As the second half began, Denmark seemed to play with more urgency. Their possession became more insistent, taking place in more advanced areas of the pitch. Tunisia’s intensity perhaps went down a bit but never lost shape and concentration.
In the 65th minute, Denmark switched to a 4-3-3 shape as Hjulmand decided to replace the captain Kjaer with left-back Mathias Jensen, moving Eriksen back into midfield while Mikkel Damsgaard had taken Delaney’s place just before half-time as the Sevilla midfielder left the pitch for an injury. On the right, Skov Olsen came off for Jesper Lindstrøm.
The set-piece battle provided the chances that were missing from open play with Andreas Cornelius, who also came in to replace Dolberg, missing a very favorable chance just inches away from the goal line. Eriksen’s shot from outside the box nearly offered the chance for Denmark to unlock the score as the current Manchester United forward was denied by a great save from the Tunisian goalkeeper Dahmen.
With just ten minutes left to play, a Var review made the fans hold their breath for some seconds as Tunisia’s center-back Meriah hit the ball with his hand inside the box, before the referee Cesar Ramos decided not to award the penalty. Tunisia left the substitutions late, mainly looking to insert fresh legs on the pitch as Hannibal Mejbri, Naïm Sliti and Yassine Khenissi replaced the exhausted front three. Tunisia bravely defended deeper as the time went down, effectively frustrating Denmark late initiatives and imposing the first goalless draw of the competition.
Tunisia fought hard and rejected their status of clear underdogs, challenging head-to-head against an experienced and solid side as Denmark. They showed determination and balance in the middle of the pitch with Laïdouni and Skhiri imposing their mix of physicality and good reading of the game. They pressed high up the pitch and never backed down in duels. Despite lacking composure and finesse in the final third, they proved to be a tough side who can certainly build on this positive first match in the hope of achieving a place in the last sixteen of a World Cup, for the first time in their history.
On the other end, Denmark did too little to come away with a win. They struggled to match the intensity of their opponents, giving the impression that they might lack options and ideas in the final third, especially when they are deemed as the favorites. At times, the movements were too easy to read for the opposition and only in the second half did Denmark manage to create a few, significant chances. Next up for them are holders France, thus it will be imperative for Hjulmand’s team to click into gear as soon as they can.
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