For many going into Russia 2018, some will struggle, at least initially, to comprehend a World Cup without traditional leading European football nations like Italy and the Netherlands.
Those with such reservations will take consolation from the fact that Denmark, a country amongst this pantheon of established countries, has successfully negotiated their way to the tournament for the first time since 2010.
The halcyon period for the national team was known as “The Danish Dynamite” era, a chapter in the history of the Danish side from Euro 84 to the World Cup of 1986 where the country could enjoy the presence of true footballing mavericks in Michael Laudrup and a certain Preben Elkjaer.
Despite a scintillating group stage performance in Mexico, winning all three games against West Germany, Uruguay and Scotland- scoring nine goals in the process- they crashed out of the tournament in the second round as they were thrashed 5-1 by Spain.
In a more recent 15-year period, Denmark had enjoyed mixed success under former Ajax coach Morten Olsen, with a devout belief of playing possession football according to the adhered Dutch principle.
However, following consecutive failures to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 respectively, Olsen was sacked.
In came new manager Age Hareide, the Norwegian who in his last domestic role had won the Allsvenskan title with Malmo, earning Champions League qualification in the process.
The first half of their World Cup qualifying campaign naturally became somewhat transitional for a developing team under Hareide, who sought to swiftly implement a more direct style onto his team. Indeed, a 4-0 demolition of group-leaders Poland in September caught the attention of many and was indicative of the momentum the Danes were gathering towards the closing quarter of the qualifiers.
Hareide’s men saw out 2017 unbeaten, a run which included a 5-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland in the qualification playoff, inspired by their outstanding playmaker, Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, who had notched a hat-trick in the rout at the Aviva Stadium.
Not only possessing the gift for a defence-splitting pass, Eriksen is a threatening presence from dead-ball situations with consistent world-class execution. Aside from his technical qualities, his biggest asset is his prolificacy. 11 goals in the qualifying stages was a tally remarkably only bettered by Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo in Europe.
Whilst Eriksen is undoubtedly the heartbeat of the team and whose influence will very much underpin whether Denmark will be able to qualify ahead of group stage opponents including France, Peru and Australia, he is complemented by an altogether well-balanced spine of a side tailored to Hareide’s playing style.
In front of the commanding Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, Brentford’s Andreas Bjelland and Sevilla’s experienced Simon Kjaer form a reliable centre-back pairing with Andrea Christensen a ready-made alternate choice.
Alongside Eriksen in the centre of midfield, Werder Bremen’s Thomas Delaney will be hoping to impress on the world stage this summer to build on his impressive Bundesliga season and to potentially show his worth to high-profile suitors. A natural box-to-box midfielder, he was Denmark’s highest scorer in qualifying after Eriksen with four goals.
Up front, the quality of RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite- who recently returned to form during a loan spell at Bordeaux- should mean the Danes need not rely on the seasoned forward Nicklas Bendtner- currently plying his trade at Norwegian club Rosenborg- for a supply of goals.