Eriksen can be Denmark's hero
But Tottenham playmaker must replicate his club form for his country
PLAY-OFF, SECOND LEG
DENMARK v SWEDEN
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Telia Parken, Copenhagen)
- Sweden lead 2-1 from first leg
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hinted that tomorrow morning (Singapore time) could be his final game for his country.
If Christian Eriksen finds his game, it just might be.
Sweden and Denmark arrive at the second leg of their Euro 2016 play-off at opposing ends of the spectrum.
The omnipotent autocrat of Swedish football has nothing left to prove. The Great Dane in waiting still has everything to give.
Eriksen owes his country a club performance.
Whenever he dons the Tottenham jersey, he teases his nation. He offers a window into a world scarcely glimpsed in Denmark.
The first leg neatly encapsulated the contrasting fortunes of a couple of competing figureheads.
Ibrahimovic, the emperor of all he surveyed, decided to substitute himself in the final stages.
He had contributed enough to proceedings, with a penalty goal building a 2-0 lead. He had independently concluded that his 34-year-old limbs needed rest ahead of the second leg.
He signalled to the bench. His judgment was not up for debate, the Swedish dugout was merely on hand to rubberstamp his decision.
Such privileges are afforded to a man who has scored 10 goals in his last 10 games for Sweden, hoisting the country upon his shoulders to over-compensate for the lack of quality around him.
At the same time, Eriksen toiled in vain to exorcise a demon: himself. He was a ghost, but not a positive way. He wasn't drifting into space or arriving late in the box to pick up stray passes and through-balls.
He was largely anonymous, not quite invisible, just an unsettling ghostly presence. He was there, but not there, the spectre of his outstanding Tottenham performances seemingly hanging over his weary head.
For the Danish faithful, sitting through Eriksen's English Premier League performances from afar must be a dispiriting experience, like watching a favourite relative ace his overseas exams at a reputable university only to mess up a career on his return.
At 23, Eriksen is finally making good on his potential at club level, benefiting from the nurturing guidance of Mauricio Pochettino.
His dominance in the recent north London Derby against Arsenal was a high point, a masterful display that was a vibrant red flag to Arsenal's clueless bulls.
At times, he breezed through the Gunners, testing Petr Cech, slipping in Harry Kane and taking a stranglehold on the game in a fashion rarely witnessed at international level.
His position and playmates hardly support his cause. Against Sweden, he was strung along a line in Morten Olsen's 4-1-4-1 formation, rarely given the latitude to cut inside as he does at White Hart Lane.
Being shackled to the cumbersome Thomas Kahlenberg didn't help, but Eriksen's fumbling must be a source of ongoing frustration for Denmark.
His club and country performances are chalk and cheese. In 97 games for Tottenham, he has scored 25 goals. In 55 appearances for Denmark, the tally stands at six.
Even the eternal figure of fun, Nicklas Bendtner, has netted 29 times for his country.
Eriksen owes Denmark a performance that befits his talent. Every EPL highlights package comes across as a series of sneak peeks and trailers in search of an international blockbuster.
The midfielder tiptoes at the fringes of the game's elite. Euro 2016 could send him stratospheric. But he can't go missing or hide against Sweden. He needs Mr Hyde. The benign Dr Jekyll act is wearing thin.
Eriksen is more than the best player in the Danish line-up. He's the best on show.
Sweden's most penetrative, attacking asset in the first leg was Emil Forsberg, who currently plays for RB Leipzig in the second tier of the Bundesliga.
Ibrahimovic is still an enigmatic presence, but a fading force, by his own admission, substituting himself in the final stages.
Eriksen is the only creative Dane that Sweden genuinely fear, the candidate most likely to overturn the one-goal deficit and ruin Ibrahimovic's swansong.
The Swedes were alive to the threat in the first leg, ushering Eriksen to the game's periphery, overcrowding him, isolating him and denying him a chance to link with Vicktor Fischer.
On the left wing, Fischer is touted as a rising Dane for the future, but Eriksen's time must be now.
He knows how to carry a nation's hopes, both literally and spiritually. He's seen it done, at close quarters, in the first leg. Ibrahimovic gave him a lesson.
And, if Eriksen gets schooled again, the Danes are out for the summer.
"We have to believe. We have the players who can decide the match in Copenhagen."
- Denmark coach Morten Olsen, who needs his star player Christian Eriksen to start pulling his weight