Ire­land dig deep again to frus­trate the Danes

Den­mark de­nied the com­fort of a home goal as dogged vis­i­tors spoil the play-off party

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer | Fifa World Cup 2018 Playoff - Emmet Malone

If, per­chance, you have been strug­gling to get your head around the Dan­ish con­cept of “hygge”, then Satur­day’s game at the Parken sta­dium might well have been use­ful. Play-off foot­ball in close to its rawest form, it was al­most the po­lar op­po­site of some­thing the lo­cals here talk warmly about in terms of com­fort and con­tent­ment.

Ire­land came and spoiled their mo­ment and, by the end of it all, the home sup­port’s ear­lier pos­i­tiv­ity had clearly sub­sided. Quite a few booed as the fi­nal whis­tle sounded and the play­ers started to make their way to the dress­ing-rooms. A hand­ful sought to take more di­rect ac­tion, with a cou­ple of the Ir­ish play­ers hav­ing beers aimed at them.

Martin O’Neill and his men would, as they say, have taken it all if it had been of­fered to them be­fore­hand.

The per­for­mance they pro­duced was not pretty nor any­where near as phys­i­cally im­pres­sive or im­pos­ing as the one that had earned them a win in Cardiff, but it was good enough to thwart the Danes. Hav­ing beaten Poland 4-0 here a cou­ple of months back, Den­mark might have been ex­pected to have a few more tricks up their col­lec­tive sleeve. Per­haps Poland’s own am­bi­tion on the night con­trib­uted to their down­fall; Ire­land cer­tainly could not have been ac­cused of that.

“Maybe we thought they would come out of the blocks and try to at­tack in more num­bers rather just kick the ball away and hope to hit a player,” ob­served for­mer Arse­nal striker Nick­las Bendt­ner af­ter­wards.

“But they de­fended with their lives, as we’ve seen. We had three good chances; maybe we could have done bet­ter with some of them but they de­fended re­ally well. They are strong so we have to match that on the away pitch and we have to take our chance and hope­fully get a goal.” Clear-cut The first two of those three chances were so clear-cut that, re­ally, Ire­land have to count them­selves very for­tu­nate not have con­ceded. Had they con­ceded, there is no telling how the rest of the night would have gone. Per­haps they might even have gone on to get an equaliser that would have left them in a sig­nif­i­cantly stronger po­si­tion ahead of Tues­day’s sec­ond leg, which they must now ei­ther win or keep score­less for 120 min­utes be­fore hope­fully pro­gress­ing on penal­ties.

As it was, Darren Ran­dolph made a dou­ble save 12 min­utes in and Pione Sisto missed what might be best de­scribed as a sit­ter af­ter 24.

In both in­stances, de­fen­sive er­rors con­trib­uted to the build-up, but it was the first – when Cyrus Christie was caught out by Si­mon Kjaer’s an­gled ball into space in­side the area for Jens Larsen – that re­ally set the alarm bells ring­ing. The Dan­ish full-back’s ini­tial shot was turned to­wards the cen­tre of the area by Ran­dolph, who did well to get mov­ing again so quickly, al­though his ef­forts would have been aca­demic had An­dreas Cor­nelius had a cool enough head to pick any spot other than the one di­rectly on front of him.

The wider con­cern, though, was that the Danes seemed to have iden­ti­fied the Ir­ish full-backs, es­pe­cially Christie, as weak­nesses, and Chris­tian Erik­sen spent a good por­tion of his evening try­ing to play Sisto in be­hind the Mid­dles­brough man. With the match still in its in­fancy, it seemed we might be in for a very anx­ious night but, in truth, while the wings re­mained fairly pro­duc­tive for the home side, they were never to open the Ir­ish up to any­thing like the same ex­tent over the rest of the evening. Headed goal­ward In the dy­ing min­utes, a cross from the same side was headed goal­ward by sub­sti­tute Yus­suf Poulsen (whose ini­tial omis­sion may well have been a bless­ing for Ire­land), but Ran­dolph re­acted well to turn the ball over the bar. In be­tween, there was al­most noth­ing of note from a Dan­ish per­spec­tive, and the lat­est in what is doubt­less a very large col­lec­tion of man of the match awards was handed to Erik­sen – pre­sum­ably be­cause the most ob­vi­ous al­ter­na­tive was the visit­ing goal­keeper.

In front of Ran­dolph, much of what went on from an Ire­land per­spec­tive had a heav­ily im­pro­vised feel about it, with Ire­land dig­ging in in num­bers and all too rarely do­ing any­thing con­struc­tive to turn de­fence into at­tack. There was all the usual en­ergy, though, and to­wards the end of the first half they did start to make the oc­ca­sional foray, most mem­o­rably when Jeff Hen­drick and Daryl Mur­phy com­bined out wide to re­lease Christie, who rounded Larsen rather im­pres­sively be­fore Kasper Sch­me­ichel even­tu­ally smoth­ered his close-range shot.

Along­side Hen­drick in the hold­ing role, Harry Arter had his mo­ments while Rob­bie Brady, af­ter a poor start, and sur­prise se­lec­tion Cal­lum O’Dowda, af­ter an anony­mous one, be­gan to make more of an im­pres­sion. Brady’s set-pieces, though, all aimed at Shane Duffy or cap­tain Ciarán Clark, looked like the only po­ten­tial source of an Ire­land goal that would have been en­tirely against the run of play. Con­ced­ing pos­ses­sion Ire­land, as they so of­ten do, made life dif­fi­cult for them­selves by ced­ing pos­ses­sion at al­most ev­ery turn. But they coped rather well with the con­se­quences, and Den­mark, for all of Erik­sen’s ap­par­ent ea­ger­ness to run the show from 30 me­tres out, sim­ply could not find a way to cre­ate any­thing of note a lit­tle fur­ther for­ward. In their frus­tra­tion, the hand­ful of shots from dis­tance they at­tempted were easy pick­ings for Ran­dolph.

“I think it [Tues­day’s game] will be a dif­fer­ent match,” said a hope­ful Bendt­ner. “They know that they can’t play a match where they have to stay so deep. They know they have to come out; they have to try to score. They can’t play a game of this im­por­tance for zero-zero. So I think it will be a lit­tle more open.

“I think the pitch here was dis­ap­point­ing too,” he con­tin­ued. “It made it dif­fi­cult for both teams. But I’ve heard the pitch in Ire­land is ex­cel­lent so I sup­pose we can play bet­ter.”

He had had al­ready en­dured enough dis­ap­point­ment for one night and so we de­cided not to men­tion the rugby.

They can’t play a game of this im­por­tance for zero-zero – Nick­las Bendt­ner

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTSFILE VIA GETTY IM­AGES; CATHER­INE IVILL/GETTY IM­AGE; REUTERS

Clock­wise from main: Darren Ran­dolph saves from Yus­suf Poulsen; Chris­tian Erik­sen re­acts af­ter the game; Den­mark’s goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­iche saves from Cyrus Christie.

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