Denmark's budding talent yet to bloom at Euro 2012
Sure, he's only 20 and his best days are ahead of him. But Denmark's gifted playmaker Christian Eriksen knows he hasn't lived up to his billing as one of the most promising young players at the European Championship.
''No, I don't really think so,'' Eriksen said on the sidelines of a training session in northern Poland. ''I would like to create more chances, be more decisive.''
Maybe Euro 2012 came too soon for Denmark's most creative player since brothers Michael and Brian Laudrup entertained global football audiences two decades ago.
The soft-spoken Dane with the messy blond hair has matured a lot since the 2010 World Cup, when he was a substitute in Denmark coach Morten Olsen's squad and the youngest player in the tournament. But after a strong season in the Dutch league, where he scored seven goals and won the title with Ajax, Eriksen hasn't assumed as decisive a role in the national team.
After an anonymous performance in Denmark's surprise 1-0 victory over the Netherlands, he was more assertive in the 3-2 loss to Portugal, taking a couple of shots on goal. Still missing from his game though was the supply of passes with which he rips up defenses for his club team.
''I was involved more in the game against Portugal than against Holland,'' Eriksen said. ''But it wasn't enough to really open up the game.''
Olsen, who criticized Eriksen's performance in pre-tournament friendlies, defended his efforts at Euro 2012 and said you can't place unreasonable expectations on the youngest player in the lineup.
''He is still only 20 years old. So I don't like that there is so much pressure put on him,'' Olsen said. ''He's done well as a team player. In between, he's been doing some things that hold a lot of promise for the future.''
The only problem is Denmark needs Eriksen's creative genius right now as it takes on Group B leader Germany on Sunday in a decisive game.
To have any hope of seizing the initiative, Denmark must get Eriksen to set up more attacks from the midfield, like he does for Ajax. So far, the Danes have threatened their opponents mostly with raids on the flanks and high balls aimed at center forward Nicklas Bendtner.
In Eriksen's defense, as the sole attacking midfielder in Olsen's formation, he has a more challenging role with Denmark than with Ajax, where he is often paired with another player.
''There are some different conditions when you play for the national team than when you play for a club team,'' Eriksen told The Associated Press. ''You don't get as many chances in the national team.''
Eriksen has at least one more chance to make an impact at Euro 2012. However, he notes that the team's success is not only up to him.
''I think every single player needs to hit his top level for us to have a chance against Germany,'' Eriksen said.