As the build-up to Ireland’s World Cup play-off with Denmark intensifies, we discuss five major talking points ahead of the clash.
5. Ireland’s Best Chance Of World Cup Qualification In Years
Ireland were arguably placed in their most manageable qualifying group in years and having secured a play-off spot have been handed the best draw they could hope for. Italy and Croatia were the two to avoid, with Switzerland a side to have only missed out on one major tournament since 2004.
Denmark are unbeaten in over a year but have been underwhelming at times. The 4-0 victory over Poland was an impressive result but they have shown little brilliance since and are heavily reliant on Christian Eriksen.
Ireland have overcome Germany, Italy, Bosnia, Austria, Uruguay and Wales in the last two years, all arguably stronger than Denmark, and should approach this tie as a fantastic opportunity to qualify for the World Cup. The fact the second leg is in the Aviva is also a huge factor working in Ireland’s favour.
4. Will Ireland Struggle Without Being Overwhelming Underdogs?
On paper, Denmark possibly edge Ireland and are after all the first seeds. However, little separates the teams with the Danes containing players from the likes of Huddersfield, Ipswich and Brentford, not too dissimilar to the Irish. Eriksen certainly separates the teams, again on paper, but Ireland will possibly be more fancied when compared to the last play-off outing against what transpired to be a poor Bosnia side.
The Boys in Green struggle against teams similar to them with Scotland being living proof, and with little separating them and Denmark it is hard to know if they will change their approach when not considered the overwhelming underdog. Denmark would have been disappointed to see Ireland come out of the pot but will still view themselves as the stronger outfit.
3. Ireland Thrive Against Teams Reliant On A Star Man
Without a doubt, Eriksen is the key cog in one of Denmark’s most underwhelming teams. Thomas Delaney, Pione Sisto and Nicolai Jorgenson are other talents but not in the same league as the Spurs man. Ireland have proven in the past that they can thrive against sides that rely on a couple of key players.
Austria (David Alaba), Wales (Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen) and Bosnia (Eden Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic) are prime examples of teams Ireland have gotten the better of over two games despite a prior over-emphasis on a couple of standout players.
The Boys in Green did after all beat a full team of top class players when they defeated Germany and Italy. Denmark should be approached no differently and fear of one player cannot be emphasised.
2. Form Men Must Be On Song
Some of Ireland’s key players are enjoying an impressive run of from. Burnley trio Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady have been terrific with the Clarets – a surprise package this season in the Premier League. They will hope to translate this onto the international stage, especially with regulars Shane Long, Harry Arter and James McClean all performing poorly domestically of late.
Shane Duffy is another player taking his game to the next level since his return to the Premier League and Glenn Whelan is enjoying a decent run for Aston Villa and will be expected to come in for the suspended David Meyler and injured James McCarthy. The Dubliner could be tasked with man-marking Christian Eriksen in Copenhagen.
1. Away Goals Will Be Key
As always, away goals will be essential when it comes to determining who comes out on top in the play-offs. Ireland demonstrated in Bosnia how important scoring away from home can be, especially given the huge physiological effect it had on the Bosnian’s who crumbled under the pressure in Dublin.
A 0-0 in Copenhagen will take the edge off the Danes and put pressure on Ireland heading back to the Aviva. Martin O’Neill’s side have always come up with answers when the questions have been asked and could thrive if they are chasing a deficit or require a specific result.
However, with the away goals they may need to strike to take some kind of initiative in the tie before bringing the Danes to a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Tuesday week.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena