Fi­nal warn­ing 10 Ir­ish on a yel­low

O’Neill’s men need to pro­duce some magic tonight to deny the Dan­ish

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Em­met Malone’s match pre­view Keith Dug­gan on Chris­tian Erik­sen James M cC lean brings the Der ry tang to Copen­hagen

The fol­low­ing play­ers will miss Tues­day’s sec­ond leg at the Aviva Sta­dium if they re­ceive a book­ing, or worse, in tonight’s first leg in Copen­hagen.

Ire­land (10): Dar­ren Ran­dolph, Cyrus Christie, James McClean, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Daryl Mur­phy, Glenn Whe­lan, Ai­den McGeady, Shane Duffy and Harry Arter.

Den­mark (9): Chris­tian Erik­sen, Kasper Sch­me­ichel, Si­mon Kjaer, Thomas De­laney, Ni­co­lai Jor­gensen, Vik­tor Fis­cher, An­dreas Cor­nelius, Yus­suf Poulsen and Pe­ter Ankersen.

First leg Den­mark v Repub­lic of Ire­land, Parken Sta­dium, Copen­hagen, 7.45pm; Live RTÉ 2, Sky Sports

Tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with fairy­tales, Copen­hagen might be bet­ter known these days as a set­ting for Nordic noir tele­vi­sion se­ries.

But those set­tling down in front of their TVs with the kids this evening will have to make a leap of faith. It will be just af­ter the wa­ter­shed be­fore we find out just which of the two gen­res Ire­land’s World Cup play-off at the Parken sta­dium ac­tu­ally falls into.

Mar­tin O’Neill de­clined to make his pre­dic­tion at his pre-match press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, but the 65-year-old is adamant that he and his play­ers have done more than enough in their four years to­gether to sug­gest they can pro­vide an­other happy end­ing.

An away win would bring Ire­land closer to that happy end­ing, but O’Neill would surely set­tle for a goal or two and a draw. His op­po­site num­ber, Age Hareide, cer­tainly con­ceded that that would be a bad re­sult for the home side on this oc­ca­sion.

Quite how the Derry man might look to engi­neer even that level of up­set will not be clear un­til the game is un­der way.

But it is bound to in­volve much the same mix of el­e­ments that the Ir­ish pro­duced a month ago in Cardiff, where their phys­i­cal­ity in mid­field and re­silience in de­fence asked ques­tions of an os­ten­si­bly su­pe­rior Wales side to which Chris Cole­man’s men sim­ply did not pos­sess the an­swers.

Big de­ci­sions

Whether they can im­pose them­selves to the same ex­tent in Copen­hagen re­mains to be seen, but on Fri­day O’Neill seemed like a man who is happy to give it a go. First up, he must pick the team to do it, and though he is not spoilt for choice in the ab­sence of some im­por­tant play­ers, he has big de­ci­sions to make in mid­field. Glenn Whe­lan may well re­turn and at­tack where Shane Long, given Daryl Mur­phy’s ef­forts last time, might just not.

Af­ter that, there is the mi­nor mat­ter of get­ting Ire­land suf­fi­ciently on the front foot that they might pose some sort of threat to Kasper Sch­me­ichel’s goal; dig­ging in and hang­ing on be­ing most ob­vi­ous al­ter­na­tive. Against a Dan­ish mid­field built around the ap­par­ently bound­less en­ergy and en­ter­prise of Chris­tian Erik­sen, though, there seems likely to be a bit of that re­gard­less.

“His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, the Repub­lic of Ire­land, even with some of the great play­ers that have played in the past, have not been great goalscor­ers,” said O’Neill. “That doesn’t mean we can’t score out here, though. We can. We’ve got the ca­pa­bil­ity of do­ing it. The away goal is ob­vi­ously im­por­tant and it’s some­thing we think we’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing. We’re just go­ing to go for it; that doesn’t mean gung ho or what­ever the case may be. But we need to get on the front foot at some stage.

“Against Wales in the open­ing 15 min­utes of the game we were on the back foot, nat­u­rally, be­cause they’re play­ing at home and we’ve had to de­fend strongly just to get a foothold in the game. We started to do that and then the game lev­elled out. Then we scored the goal. And, of course, we had to de­fend strongly in the last 25 min­utes. Which we did.

“We’ve had tough games away from home in this com­pe­ti­tion, start­ing against Ser­bia go­ing right through. We’ve re­mained un­beaten away from home which is no mean feat. That’s a tes­ta­ment to the sort of char­ac­ter that’s in the team. But this is a dif­fer­ent test again. And one that we have to be up for.”


O’Neill didn’t try to claim for a mo­ment that his play­ers have cor­nered the mar­ket in pas­sion or de­ter­mi­na­tion ahead of their hosts. But he seemed en­tirely re­laxed at the scale of the chal­lenge at the Parken, where the roof will be open, and pro­jected a cer­tain con­fi­dence that, once again, when it mat­ters, his play­ers can de­liver.

His op­po­site num­ber, Age Hareide, it must be said, scarcely comes across as over­awed. O’Neill’s old friend talked about Ire­land be­ing “easy to read but hard to beat” with, you sensed, no of­fence in­tended. The for­mer de­fender shrugged off the sug­ges­tion that the rough and tum­ble of the vis­i­tors’ game might un­set­tle the home side.

If his team’s bet­ter group games are any­thing to go by, then Hareide has a fairly de­cent game­plan of his own.

The width pro­duced by the full-backs is of crit­i­cal im­por­tance to the Dan­ish ap­proach, and though they have lost two de­fend­ers to in­jury, they are still cer­tain to have the greater strength in depth.

O’Neill’s own tal­ent, though, has been to en­sure that, de­spite the lim­ited re­sources, on their very big­gest nights, his Ire­land team some­how amounts to that lit­tle bit more than the sum of its parts.

And the nights don’t come much big­ger than this. Ire­land will have to ex­cel again if Copen­hagen is to tee us up for a fairy­tale end­ing.


Glenn Whe­lan and Jeff Hen­drick dur­ing Repub­lic of Ire­land train­ing at Parken Sta­dium, yes­ter­day.

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