Depleted Republic of Ireland take on their bogey team Denmark in make-or-break Euro qualifier
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
Republic of Ireland’s Derrick Williams celebrates scoring their first goal in a recent friendly win against New Zealand