Ire­land primed to change the mood in Den­mark

Repub­lic are in a record eighth set of play-offs and hope this will be their third win in a row

The Guardian - Sport - - Football World Cup Playoffs - Paul Doyle Copen­hagen

The United Na­tions has classed Den­mark as the hap­pi­est coun­try in the world for three of the past five years, with Gallup re­search reck­on­ing that the av­er­age Dane ex­pe­ri­ences 80 pos­i­tive emo­tions per day. The fac­tors as­sessed in­clude af­flu­ence, sta­bil­ity, health, ed­u­ca­tion and per­sonal ful­fil­ment. Foot­ball suc­cess does not come into it, ap­par­ently.

This evening, all the same, most of the 38,000 peo­ple at Copen­hagen’s Parken Sta­dium will gid­dily urge the home team to take a de­ci­sive step to­wards next year’s World Cup, while Martin O’Neill and the Repub­lic of Ire­land will strive to bring a lit­tle mis­ery to Den­mark.

The Ir­ish are Europe’s most gnarled play-off par­tic­i­pants. This will be the eighth such duel they have con­tested, more than any other coun­try in the con­ti­nent. They have lost more than they have won but are on a roll, hav­ing pre­vailed in their last two play-offs, most re­cently by beat­ing Bos­nia-Herze­gov­ina to reach Euro 2016 while Den­mark were los­ing a makeor-break tie against Swe­den.

The pair of per­for­mances against Bos­nia were among the best pro­duced un­der O’Neill and helped form the con­vic­tion that his team have a knack for ris­ing to big chal­lenges, al­beit some­times af­ter fail­ing to take the ini­tia­tive in smaller ones.

In this cam­paign they have been par­tic­u­larly valiant away, with their finest dis­plays yield­ing 1-0 vic­to­ries in Aus­tria and Wales. “We’ve got to use those ex­pe­ri­ences to good ef­fect,” says O’Neill. “The play­ers have ma­tured. There’s a good be­lief in the camp that maybe didn’t ex­ist a cou­ple of sea­sons ago, an in­ner self-be­lief – not one that is flaunted – that we can go out and be com­pet­i­tive against any­one.”

No one could ac­cuse Ire­land of flaunt­ing their self-be­lief, at least not if that means con­trol­ling pos­ses­sion and at­tack­ing with gusto. They have, how­ever, played with in­domitable spirit and a good deal of so­lid­ity and hoped they might prove clin­i­cal enough to scrounge an away goal from one of their few chances.

The Den­mark man­ager, Age Hareide, does not en­vis­age them tak­ing a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ap­proach to­day. “They are easy to read and dif­fi­cult to beat” he says. “They don’t change much game to game, they play the same style, but they stick to­gether and work well.”

Hareide knows all about O’Neill – they lived to­gether when they were team­mates dur­ing a spell at Manch­ester City in the early 1980s and have re­mained in touch since – but there was a glint of pique in the Ir­ish­man’s eyes when told of his for­mer ten­ant’s com­ment. O’Neill in­sists he will seek at least one away goal to take into Tues­day’s sec­ond leg in Dublin.

“If you watch a lot of Den­mark there a sim­i­lar pat­tern in most of their games … so we know what to ex­pect from them,” adds O’Neill. “The away goal is ob­vi­ously im­por­tant and it’s some­thing we’re ca­pa­ble of get­ting. We’re just go­ing to go for that. We need to get on the front foot, as we were against Wales [in Oc­to­ber]. We were on the back foot for the first 15 min­utes [against Wales] and had to de­fend strongly to get a foothold, then the game lev­elled out and we came more into it and got the goal. We re­mained un­beaten away from home [through­out the group stage]. That’s a tes­ta­ment to the sort of char­ac­ter in the team. We are close to the World Cup and it’s there for the tak­ing.”

Den­mark Repub­lic of Ire­land

v Venue Parken Sta­dium

Ref­eree M Mazic (Ser) Ra­dio BBC5Live

Den­mark Repub­lic of Ire­land

Key ■ One book­ing from sus­pen­sion

Play-off First leg 7.45pm SSF

The clear­est in­di­ca­tor of O’Neill’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to take the game to the Danes would be to give a rare away start to Ire­land’s most cre­ative player, Wes Hoola­han, per­haps be­hind a front pair of Shane Long and Daryl Mur­phy. It is far more likely Ire­land’s at­tempt to pil­fer an away goal will take the fa­mil­iar for­mat and they will play with one striker while Glenn Whe­lan re­turns to cen­tral mid­field in place of the sus­pended David Meyler. That would sug­gest an as­pi­ra­tion to parry Dan­ish at­tacks and land a coun­ter­punch.

Those at­tacks will re­volve around Chris­tian Erik­sen, the Tot­ten­ham play­maker who is even more in­flu­en­tial for coun­try than for club. He has done his ut­most to get his coun­try to Rus­sia, scor­ing eight of the 20 goals they mus­tered in the group stage and cre­at­ing many of the oth­ers as Den­mark fin­ished sec­ond to Poland.

Will O’Neill try to man-mark him? “I don’t mind if they do as there is more space for other play­ers with their qual­ity and they could take ad­van­tage, but it’s Ire­land’s de­ci­sion and it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter,” said Erik­sen. The Spurs player added, how­ever, that Den­mark can only beat Ire­land by first “break­ing their spirit”. To which Rob­bie Brady, scorer of Ire­land’s goal in Bos­nia two years ago, replied: “They can try.”

Martin O’Neill used to share a house with the Den­mark coach in their Manch­ester City play­ing days and the two men have kept in touch over the years

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