De­pleted Repub­lic of Ire­land take on their bo­gey team Den­mark in make-or-break Euro qual­i­fier

The National - News - - SPORT - RICHARD JOLLY

It has be­come one of foot­ball’s stranger re­cent ri­val­ries. When the Repub­lic of Ire­land host Den­mark to­day, it will be their sixth meet­ing since Novem­ber 2017.

In lit­tle over two years, there will have been more games be­tween the Ir­ish and the Danes than Manch­ester, Mersey­side or Mi­lan der­bies.

For the Ir­ish, it has amounted to a de­press­ing saga so far. They have four hard-fought draws, three of them 0-0. They were thrashed 5-1 in Dublin, a play-off that earned the Danes a place at the World Cup. Two years on, this has the feel of a play-off by an­other name.

“It is one game, make or break for us,” said the Ire­land mid­fielder Alan Browne. “If we win it, we qual­ify.”

Yet winning it poses prob­lems. Ire­land’s only vic­to­ries in qual­i­fy­ing have come against Ge­or­gia and Gi­bral­tar.

They fal­tered last month, draw­ing in Tbil­isi and los­ing away in Switzer­land.

They will be with­out their sus­pended cap­tain Sea­mus Cole­man and the in­jured for­ward Aaron Con­nolly, who has threat­ened to add goals to a team that av­er­age fewer than one per game in this qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign.

And they have a re­union with Chris­tian Erik­sen, whose last trip to Dublin brought a hat­trick in that 5-1 de­mo­li­tion.

It prompted the Den­mark man­ager Age Hareide to brand Erik­sen one of the world’s top 10 play­ers.

A work­man­like Ire­land have no one who re­motely mer­its that de­scrip­tion, leav­ing Browne look­ing to en­sure other val­ues pre­vail.

“They will prob­a­bly be favourites but we will def­i­nitely want it more,” said the Pre­ston player, who started in Thurs­day’s 3-1 win over New Zealand. “It will take a lit­tle bit of luck. I think over­all they have got bet­ter qual­ity in their team but it is not just all about qual­ity.”

There is a par­al­lel from man­ager Mick McCarthy’s first spell in charge. Then, as now, Ire­land were the pool’s third favourites. Their path to progress came from a fa­mous home win against a more gifted group.

Yet in 2001, Ire­land had Roy Keane to in­spire their 10 men to vic­tory against the Netherland­s. There is no mod­ern-day Keane, whether a Roy or a Rob­bie. None of McCarthy’s strik­ers has scored more than one in­ter­na­tional goal.

Cen­tre-back Shane Duffy is the third top scorer in the cur­rent squad; his third and most re­cent strike earned Ire­land a draw with Den­mark in June.

Ar­guably McCarthy’s lim­ited but in­dus­tri­ous squad have done well to pro­cure the point they have taken off each of Den­mark and Switzer­land, two sides who reached the last 16 of the World Cup. But, hav­ing led the group from March, Ire­land were de­moted to third on Fri­day, when the two favourites beat the two min­nows.

Now, to em­u­late the side of a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, who qual­i­fied for the 1994 World Cup at Den­mark’s ex­pense, they are left search­ing for the sort of flag­ship re­sult McCarthy’s pre­de­ces­sor, Martin O’Neill, some­times con­jured, whether in beat­ing Ger­many in Euro 2016 qual­i­fy­ing or Italy to get out of the group stage.

“That is prob­a­bly what we need to show we de­serve to qual­ify,” Browne said.

“I am happy in a way it has come down to that be­cause you don’t want to qual­ify on the back of some­one else not do­ing as well as they can.

“Our re­sults so far have prob­a­bly been fair enough. We haven’t over­achieved but in cam­paigns, you have to. You have to get some big wins, even one or two, and say: ‘That is what has got us qual­i­fied’.

“It has come down to a mas­sive game against a re­ally tough side. They gave us quite a beat­ing a few years back but I be­lieve we can beat them.”

In five meet­ings since Novem­ber 2017, the Ir­ish have four hard-fought draws. Den­mark thrashed them 5-1 in Dublin

Reuters

Repub­lic of Ire­land’s Der­rick Wil­liams cel­e­brates scor­ing their first goal in a re­cent friendly win against New Zealand

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