By Philip O'Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Denmark's playmaker Christian Eriksen, having scored the goals that got his country to Russia including a hat-trick in a 5-1 playoff demolition of Ireland, will bear the weight of the nation's expectations at next year's World Cup.
The 25-year-old Tottenham Hotspur midfielder scored eight goals as the Danes clinched second spot in Group E before adding that superb treble to break Irish hearts in the return leg of their European playoff in Dublin.
Denmark last competed at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, where Eriksen made his bow as an 18-year-old in two substitute appearances, but Morten Olsen's side stuttered and did not make it past the group stage.
Long-serving manager Olsen got Denmark to Euro 2012 but they missed out on the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 and he was replaced by coach Age Hareide for the World Cup qualifiers.
Though the Danes are infatuated with free-flowing Dutch-style attacking football, they have become a lot more pragmatic under Norwegian Hareide, adopting a direct, physical style that saw them finish behind Group E winners Poland.
Since making their World Cup debut in 1986, Denmark have a proud record at the finals, making it out of their group on three of the four occasions they have taken part and beating former winners such as West Germany, France and Uruguay.
The current squad may lack the flair and firepower of old, but Hareide's tactical nous and attention to detail, coupled with the steely defending of the likes of Simon Kjaer, will make them a tough nut to crack at the tournament.
If young guns like Ajax Amsterdam forward Kasper Dolberg and Mainz 05 winger Viktor Fischer can step up in the coming months, Hareide will have more attacking options at his disposal but it is Eriksen who will be the fulcrum of the Danish side.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)