Ireland welcome Denmark to the Aviva on Tuesday night, knowing that only a win will do to seal a place in next year’s World Cup.
Martin O’Neill’s side frustrated their hosts at the Parken Stadium on Saturday, but in doing so went a full 90 minutes away from home in a competitive fixture without scoring a goal under the manager (and the first time in three years) – a risky strategy that, while securing a satisfactory result, raises the stakes for the clash in Dublin.
Limiting the opposition is one thing, but the Boys in Green will have to take the game to Denmark in the return leg. Given O’Neill’s back-catalogue, wholesale changes are unlikely – but given the fact that Age Hareide’s men.
Darren Randolph. The Middlesbrough man was alert when called upon in Copenhagen, amking a good double-save from Jens Larsen and Andreas Cornelius in the first half. A late save from Youssuf Poulsen was the highlight of an otherwise quiet second half, and Randolph has done nothing to suggest that a change between the posts is necessary.
Cyrus Christie. Christie turned in a fine display on Saturday, constantly looking a threat on the right side and nearly breaking the deadlock himself after a mazy run into the Danish box. Matt Doherty may have had a greater case earlier in the campaign, but not with one game left.
Shane Duffy. Looking more like the heir to Richard Dunne’s throne with every passing game. Duffy did his Gandalf routine against Wales last month, and was more than equal to the Danish threat too. The Brighton centre-back is having a brilliant season, and should be the first defensive name on the teamsheet.
Ciaran Clark. Duffy’s partner at the back was handed the captain’s armband in Copenhagen, and seemed to let the added pressure get to him a bit. Passes and clearances were a bit more wayward than Irish fans had become accustomed to, but Clark and Duffy are seen as the first-choice pairing now and that has to continue on Tuesday.
Robbie Brady. Brady’s influence in midfield, either in the centre or on the wing, has waned since Euro 2016 to the point where a move back into the defence, where he actually began that tournament, may take the pressure off of him. His endeavour is still such that it is beneficial to the starting lineup – but in a game where Ireland will have to take the game to their opponents, it might be more useful coming from the back.
David Meyler. Meyler is likely to start as captain once again, and it is a responsibility that he has taken to like a duck to water. The Hull City midfielder was a standout performer towards the end of the campaign and his ability to protect the defence will be vital at the Aviva as his attacking teammates push forward in pursuit of the all important goal(s).
Harry Arter. Arter was given more of a defensive role in Copenhagen in the absence of Meyler (and Glenn Whelan), but will probably be given licence to be a bit freer in Dublin. Arter is a tireless performer in the midfield and his ability to harangue the opposition will be used to great effect in frustrating Denmark.
Wes Hoolahan. The latest of Eamon Dunphy’s many Ireland poster boys over the years (remember Andy Reid?), Hoolahan nonetheless remains arguably Ireland’s most creative player. He makes those around him play to a higher standard, and his eye for a pass has been evident throughout the campaign when he has started. If this is to be his last match for Ireland, and there a chance that it could be if the result doesn’t go Ireland’s way, he deserves the chance to go out swinging.
(Starting the above three in the centre would mean that Jeff Hendrick would have to drop to the bench, which is probably a decision that O’Neill should be considering at some stage. The Burnley midfielder had been one of Ireland’s most influential midfielders in the run-up to Euro 2016, but his form since has not really been up to the standard expected.)
Callum O’Dowda. O’Dowda’s sparkling recent form for Bristol City convinced O’Neill to start him in the first leg – and while he did not quite have the impact that he would have liked in that match, there’s an argument to be made that a more attacking game (and with Hoolahan with him in midfield) would allow him to play a more natural game. It’s a gamble, but it’s arguably one worth taking.
James McClean. McClean has been the heart of this campaign since the beginning, going inoto each match with the same level of passion and determination in every match. That level of passion can sometimes hinder his decision-making, but his influence on the pitch makes him a powerful asset.
Shane Long. Neither Long nor Daryl Murphy are major goal threats, so it then becomes a case of what else they can bring to the table. Murphy was the right choice away from home as the Irish play was bit more rigid (even if he still remained isolated) – but at home, the plan should surely be to stretch Denmark’s defence a bit more.
Long has a habit of drifting wide too often, but with Hoolahan behind him and O’Dowda and McClean operating the wings, he should be able to stay a bit more cetral while still tempting the away defence out of position.
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we review last week’s FAI Cup final with former Cork City defender Derek Coughlan and look ahead to Ireland’s massive World Cup play-off against Denmark.
Read More About: callum o'dowda, ciaran clark, cyrus christie, darren randolph, davie meyler, Denmark, harry arter, Ireland, james mcclean, Martin O'Neill, robbie brady, roy keane, shane duffy, shane long, Top Story, wes hoolahan