Ir­ish frus­trate Danes to fuel fi­nals am­bi­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Luke Ed­wards at Parken Sta­dium

They walked off the pitch to a stand­ing ova­tion, the cheers and ap­plause from their de­lighted sup­port­ers drift­ing down the tun­nel af­ter them, but if this was a vic­tory of sorts for the Repub­lic of Ire­land, it was an ugly one.

Seen through the eyes of their hosts, they may as well have been slip­ping away from a crime scene. For Den­mark, this felt like death by stran­gu­la­tion.

The Danes will seek jus­tice in Dublin, but Ire­land have the up­per hand af­ter grind­ing out a goal­less draw in the first leg of this play-off.

They squeezed the life out of their hosts and, by the end, there was lit­tle fight left in them. It re­mains to be seen whether they can re­cover.

As bad as Mar­tin O’Neill’s team were in terms of keep­ing hold of the ball and us­ing it de­ci­sively, their abil­ity to play with­out mean­ing­ful pos­ses­sion in the op­po­si­tion half means vic­tory on Tues­day night will be enough to send them to the World Cup. “The game is evenly poised for the sec­ond leg,” said O’Neill. “There is no doubt they have the abil­ity to score a goal in the Aviva Sta­dium, so we might have to score two.

“We will have to use the ball a lot bet­ter than we did. We ob­vi­ously want to be bet­ter with the ball, but the play­ers put in a really big ef­fort.

“The pitch was really awk­ward tonight. It might not have been the best [per­for­mance] but, over­all, we ad­justed and we coped for the most part.”

It is just as well Ire­land are so well drilled at play­ing with­out the ball be­cause there are times when they ap­pear to have very lit­tle abil­ity with it.

Not for the first time, this was a dif­fi­cult to watch for long pe­ri­ods; tough to take any sort of plea­sure from other than the re­sult.

That, though, is all that ul­ti­mately mat­ters. If O’Neill can lead Ire­land to their first World Cup fi­nals for 16 years, no­body will care how he did it.

He is a prag­ma­tist not an en­ter­tainer. He knows the lim­i­ta­tions of the Ire­land team, so makes sure he dis­guises them.

Ire­land can be a hard team to like if you still be­lieve the idea that foot­ball is the beau­ti­ful game, but there is no deny­ing they are ef­fec­tive.

Ire­land’s lines move as one, drop­ping back or for­ward in uni­son. When the de­fence drops deeper, the space they leave is filled seam­lessly by a five­man mid­field that spreads the width of the pitch.

When they push up, the for­ma­tion does not change, the gaps be­tween them do not al­ter.

Ire­land are so or­gan­ised that they re­sem­ble a Ro­man Pha­lanx, their de­fen­sive shield al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble as long as they work to­gether and re­mem­ber their train­ing drills.

O’Neill would like his team to be more than that. Some­times they can be, but this cold night in the Dan­ish cap­i­tal was not one of them. There were spells in this game, par­tic­u­larly in the sec­ond half as he and Roy Keane screamed their frus­tra­tion on the touch­line, that Ire­land’s pass­ing was atro­cious rather than just way­ward.

In the end, it did not mat­ter. The Den­mark play­ers were frus­trated and grew des­per­ate.

They had three good chances over the course of the 90 min­utes, Ire­land had two. For all of the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two teams in terms of am­bi­tion and at­tack­ing in­tent, it could have been an even worse night for the home team. As it is, they still have a chance of pro­gress­ing and will hope Ire­land can also be frus­trated in front of their own sup­port­ers.

Two of Den­mark’s chances could be classed as ex­cel­lent, the first from a long di­ag­o­nal ball over the top of right­back Cyrus Christie which found the run of Jens Stryger Larsen. He took it down and got away a shot which was kept out by Dar­ren Ran­dolph. The loose ball fell per­fectly to An­dreas Cor­nelius, but he could only hit it straight at the goal­keeper.

The sec­ond came from a swerv­ing shot from Chris­tian Erkisen, that Ran­dolph once again pushed out, but not away from dan­ger.

This time, from a tighter an­gle, Pione Sisto fired the ball wide.

Ire­land had not got go­ing, but they al­most scored just be­fore the break. Christie some­how wrig­gled into the area from the right flank and was in on goal, only for Kasper Sch­me­ichel to sprint off his line, nar­row the an­gle and get a hand up to block his shot as the Ire­land full-back tried to lift the ball over him.

It was hoped there would be more en­ter­tain­ment in the seond pe­riod, but in truth it sim­ply ground to a stale­mate. Nei­ther side threat­ened un­til a late flurry of goal­mouth ac­tion, as Shane Duffy saw a glanc­ing header saved and Ran­dolph tipped one over from the frus­trated Poul­son at the other end.

“We cre­ated enough chances to win the game,” Age Hareide, the Den­mark man­ager, said. “We had at least three big chances. “But we have to get the ball in be­tween the posts, that’s al­ways im­por­tant. We knew Ire­land would be hard to break down and when you don’t take the chances, they sur­vive.

“But 0-0 at home is not a bad re­sult. A goal away will be very vi­tal for us. They don’t score two goals many times. We will go over to Dublin and try to get that goal.

“We had the ball 65 per cent. We played well enough to win. If we play like this in Dublin, we will win.”

High point: Den­mark’s Chris­tian Erik­sen and Stephen Ward en­gage in an ac­ro­batic tus­sle at Copen­hagen’s Parken Sta­dium last night

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