Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said his team must find another gear against France when it meets the reigning champions in a crucial Group D clash on Saturday, having found itself behind the points tally it would have wanted at this stage.
The Danes were held to a goalless draw with Tunisia on Tuesday while France crushed Australia 4-1 to go top of the group and could qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare should it win against Hjulmand’s side.
Denmark, who in 2002 beat France to end its campaign in the group stage, beat Les Blues twice in the Nations League this year - 2-1 in Paris and 2-0 in Copenhagen - and Hjulmand backed them to earn a victory again, despite their start-studded opponents being among the tournament favourites.
“Tomorrow’s game is obviously an important one for us after the start we had. It’s an opponent who belongs at the very, very top of football. The quality and talent they have in France at the moment is spectacular,” Hjulmand told reporters on Friday.
“The way they played (against Australia) was also a bit different than the two games we played against them. I have great respect for France, but I also know how strong we are. We’ve tested them a few times.
“Obviously this is a new tournament, a bigger tournament. But we know that if we play our very best, we have a chance of getting a good result, and that’s what we’re aiming for. To be able to do that, we have to take a big step forward in the quality from the first match.”
France target man Olivier Giroud, 36, drew level with Thierry Henry on 51 international goals after scoring twice against Australia, and Hjulmand was wary of the threat posed by the AC Milan forward.
“It’s a pleasure to see more and more strikers at a late age using the experience in how to move in the box and how to be dangerous, have more calmness in the way they play and their position,” Hjulmand said.
“He’s probably even better than he has been before... France have an unbelievable amount of top players.”
The World Cup has featured several marathon matches so far, with as many as seven or eight minutes of stoppage time regularly being added in either or both halves to make up for time lost to goal celebrations, substitutions, VAR checks and injuries.
The increased focus on effective playing time was not announced in advance by FIFA and Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen said the players were caught off guard by the decision.
“It’s new to us, we didn’t know there was going to be so much added time,” Eriksen said.
“We hadn’t heard about this and nobody said anything about it. We found out when we saw the first matches being played. This was something that could have been mentioned really in advance.”