Can The Boys In Green Make It To The World Cup In Russia?
There was a general feeling of cautious optimism when the Republic of Ireland were drawn against Denmark in the World Cup Qualifier play-offs. It was seen as one of the two more desirable draws as Italy & Croatia were avoided, although Ireland have a good recent record against the Italians and Croatia struggled for results towards the end of their group campaign. Nonetheless, they wouldv'e have been huge tasks given the talent pool of both nations. Switzerland were the other side in the draw and would've been many people's choice to face.
The first leg takes place on Novmeber 11th in Copenhagen with the return leg three days later in Dublin. So what can we expect from the Danes?
THE OPPOSITIONDenmark got off to a difficult start in their group by losing two of their opening three games, a 3-2 loss away to Poland and a 1-0 home defeat to Montenegro. They then went unbeaten for the rest of the campaign with the most impressive result coming in a 4-0 thumping of Poland at the beginning of September. Christian Eriksen scored 7 goals in 7 games and is very much the main man for the Danes.
Former Copenhagen trio Thomas Delaney, Andreas Cornelius & Nicolai Jorgensen are all dangers creatively. Delaney is no stranger to long-range strikes from his time at Copenhagen and has already bagged 5 goals in 21 games for new club Werder Bremen. Cornelius joined Atalanta in the summer and has got off the mark already. Jorgensen scored 21 goals last season as Feyenoord won the Eredivisie title.
HEAD TO HEADThese two sides haven't met in a competitive fixture since 1993 in a World Cup Qualifier which ended 1-1 thanks to a Niall Quinn equaliser. Denmark were surprising European champions at that time so for Ireland to take the possibilty of qualification to the last game of the group was seen as a great achievement in itself. A famous goal from Alan McLoughlin in Belfast against Northern Ireland coupled with a Fernando Hierro goal against Denamrk saw the Republic though World Cup USA '94.
The last two meetings have been friendlies which the Irish won both times, a 2-0 win in 2002 and a 4-0 away win in 2007.
IRELAND'S GROUP CAMPAIGN AND KEY PLAYERSIt looked as though the boys in green had missed out on any chance of qualification after disappointing draws and performances at home to Austria and away to Georgia. This was followed up with a home defeat to Serbia. That performance was much better than the previous two but they lacked a cutting edge in front of goal. A home win against Moldova set up the showdown with Wales in Cardiff. A battling performance coupled with some periods of excellent passing play saw them get the win they needed. James McClean's terrific finish perfectly complemented Jeff Hendrick's skill and cross which set up the goal.
James McClean has been a vital player in the qualifying campaign scoring winning goals away to Austria and Wales. Ireland will be hoping that central defensive duo Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark remain fit as they have formed a good partnership with both playing regular football so far this season in the Premier League.
David Meyler proved to be a big influence as captain and embraced the role with pride and determination. Harry Arter looks to be settling into life in the green shirt and could have a big role to play along with Jeff Hendrick who looks to be finding form again for club & country.
TEAM NEWSThere are doubts over the availability of players just days befor the first-leg on Saturday. Players who we know that are definitely out are Richard Keogh, Jon Walters & Seán Maguire whilst David Meyler misses Saturday's game through suspension. The latest name of doubt is Jeff Hendrick who came off against Southampton at the weekend.
Added to that, there are a host of players a booking away from missing out on the second-leg which includes the entire expected starting backline. But Ireland aren't alone in having injury headaches. Defender Simon Kjaer was injured for Sevilla against Barcelona and striker Jorgensen fractured his wrist playing for Feyenoord over the weekend also.
In what is widely expected to be a close encounter, these absentees and potential absentees may further cement those sentiments with goals perhaps coming at a premium over the two legs.