(Reuters) - When Christian Eriksen took part in the 2010 World Cup finals he was a callow teenager left mostly on the bench, but he will arrive in Russia as a world-class player with the weight of Denmark’s expectations on his shoulders.
The 26-year-old playmaker is one of the first names on the team sheet at Premier League Tottenham Hotspur, and his sublime technique and footballing intelligence have become indispensable to the national team.
Schooled in the ways of total football during a three-year spell at Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam, a regular stop on the road to the top for Danish players, he won praise from no less a judge than Johan Cruyff for his skill and technique.
Eriksen announced his arrival on the international stage a few days before his 19th birthday in 2011 when he created a goal for Daniel Agger and was named man of the match for his stunning performance in a 2-1 friendly loss to England.
The switch of national team coach from football purist Morten Olsen to the more pragmatic Age Hareide might have rung alarm bells for Denmark’s most creative player, but the Norwegian has given Eriksen plenty of freedom within the set-up.
He has been richly rewarded as Eriksen netted 11 goals in qualifying, including an electrifying hat-trick in the second leg of their playoff against Ireland in Dublin that put Denmark on course for a 5-1 win and secured a place at the finals.
Despite playing in the rough and tumble of the English top flight there are still doubts about Eriksen’s ability to handle the more physical side of the game but, with plenty of tough midfielders and forwards around him, that is seldom an issue.
With his set-piece prowess and two-footed technique, Eriksen will be the engine driving Danish hopes in Russia.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ed Osmond