Seventeen months after suffering a heart attack during Euro 2020, Christian Eriksen did what had seemed unthinkable at the time and walked out on to the pitch with many of the same Danish teammates who had stood around him collapsed on the turf, to play in the 2022 World Cup.
What is almost as remarkable as his appearance in Qatar, played in the sort of sticky heat that sucks at the lungs and pumps the heart, is that he arrives restored as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. Arguably Eriksen is more complete than ever before, reinvented slightly as more of a tempo-setter at Manchester United but still carrying a gleaming arsenal of weapons, that flat missile of a cross as treacherous to defend as it ever was.
It is the sort of cliche befitting a World Cup to say that Eriksen’s cerebral nature embodies the temperament of his nation. Interviews with Eriksen portray an almost sheepishness in that soft scratchy voice, as if he’s sorry to have had such a showy cardiac arrest. His football is a reflection of the man: concise and efficient without ever taking an unnecessary touch, shuffling around midfield like an innocent bystander, knitting and stitching in areas of apparent safety. But an opponent’s sense of security is usually misplaced: like a magic trick, he appears on the right wing and a single swing of his right boot cuts Tunisia’s defence in half.
He was barely visible in the first 45 minutes and yet by half-time Denmark had made four key passes; Eriksen had played them all. He registered a 93 per cent passing accuracy and had attempted and completed more crosses than anyone on the pitch, drifting wide from a notionally central role, and picking out teammates with piercing set-pieces.
His ability to arrive on the scene of a teammate under pressure is uncanny. Two Danes in a tight spot needing an option? There’s Eriksen, turning a straight line into a dynamic triangle, Denmark’s press-resistant vertex creating isosceles of protection all over the pitch.
Which was just as well, because Denmark weren’t very good for large parts of this entertaining goalless draw, or rather, Tunisia were. The wonderfully nicknamed Eagles of Carthage swooped into tackles which set a menacing tone from the get-go. Tunisia’s whole demeanour was that of a man in a cheap leather jacket dishing out unsuspecting shoulder barges on public transport, yet their bludgeoning approach to defending was combined with some intricate football which created some of the best chances of the game.
Perhaps the match needed even more of Eriksen’s spark than he could possibly give. He won’t acknowledge it, of course, but Eriksen will bring us two joys at this World Cup: his mere presence is a cause for celebration, and his style is as easy on the eye as anyone’s in Qatar, an already gifted performer with a little added percussion 18 months on, back where he belongs.