SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Peru’s long-awaited return to the World Cup could turn sour at the Mordovia Arena against Denmark on Saturday if they cannot keep playmaker Christian Eriksen in check and fail to nullify their opponents’ height advantage.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Eriksen has arrived in Russia on the back of fine campaigns for both club and country. He was the joint third-best scorer in European qualifying with 11 goals behind Robert Lewandowski (16) and Cristiano Ronaldo (15).
The 26-year-old also scored 10 league goals for Spurs last season and will carry the hopes of an entire nation when Denmark start their campaign against Peru.
“Eriksen is a very important player, very well known and he will be a key player and we have to be able to face players like him,” Peru coach Ricardo Gareca told reporters on Friday.
“But we also have players at that level. He won’t be the player we have to concentrate on. Playing against players like him will allow us to grow and learn.”
With France, one of the pre-tournament favourites, also in Group C, Peru cannot afford to drop points against Denmark if they are to progress to the knockouts on their return to the global stage after a 36-year absence.
Saturday’s match at the 44,000-capacity stadium could prove decisive for both Peru and Denmark as both sides will fancy their chances to then pick up full points against Australia and progress from the group stages.
Schooled in the ways of total football during a three-year spell at Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam, Eriksen won praise from no less a judge than former Netherlands great Johan Cruyff for his skill and technique.
With his set-piece prowess and two-footed technical excellence, Eriksen will be the engine driving Danish hopes in Russia.
If dealing with Eriksen on the ground is a challenge, Peru will also have to ensure they are up for the battle in the air when the Spurs playmaker delivers from set-pieces.
Denmark boast one of the tallest teams in the tournament with an average height of 185cm while Peru, who became the final team to qualify for the World Cup through a two-legged inter-continental playoff, are the shortest at 178.
Denmark will look to take advantage by winning the aerial battles, their Norwegian coach Age Hareide predicted on Friday.
But Gareca said: “We know they are taller. We are used to playing teams that are good and have tall players and are very good in the air.”
“Up to now, we have been able to overcome this challenge. I think we ready to stop that kind of game.
“Fortunately our sport is made for players of any size. Football is not like that. One of the characteristics of football is that anyone can play.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ian Chadband