The long wait is almost over. James McClean’s heroics in Cardiff have given the Republic of Ireland a two-game shoot-out with Denmark to decide who will appear at next year’s World Cup in Russia. Ahead of the do-or-die clashes, Claus Røndbjerg-Christensen has the view from our Scandinavian opponents.
”Republic of Ireland” were the words pronounced by former Real Madrid-stalwart defender Fernando Hierro on Tuesday 17th of October. It was settled. Denmark will now have to face a team they have not played in over a decade. ”Was it a good draw?” and ”Are you happy with the draw?” were some of the questions asked of me and my fellow Danes on Twitter just seconds after the ball came out of the pot. But before answering, we must go back a day. We made a poll to find out which team Denmark fans would like to play and considering who the possible opponents were (Greece, Sweden, Northern Ireland and Rep. Of Ireland), it was clear to see who people favoured. And it wasn’t Ireland.
Why was the result like this? The last time Denmark played the Boys in Green was in a 2007 friendly in Aarhus, not the normal stadium the Danes usually play in which is in Parken, Copenhagen. Denmark lost 4-0 at home and that alone is a statement why many think that this is far from an easy tie. But we also need to take into consideration that lots has changed since that game and the only players still playing are Nicklas Bendtner and William Kvist.
The qualifying campaign
Denmark were placed in Group E with Poland, Romania, Armenia, Montenegro and Kazakhstan, on paper a somewhat easy group where the Poles should have been the only real test. Romania have not been playing great for some years now and the rest are teams Denmark should have been capable of beating. That was not the case.
In every qualification series there are upsets whether drawing with a low ranking opponent or even a narrow loss. Denmark started out against Armenia at home winning 1-0. Not a great start but a solid one. First game and 3 points already.
The next match could have be deemed the most crucial one against a Poland side who drew their first game against Kazakhstan 2-2, Robert Lewandowski scoring one of the Polish goals.
Lewandowski was the one danger man the Danes feared and rightly so. In Warsaw, Denmark could not stop the FC Bayern hitman from scoring twice leading his team to a 3-2 win. This put the Poles top of the group but hope was not lost. Denmark played well in the Polish capital and the loss was primarily due to small mistakes.
The next match was at home to Montenegro, a young nation that recently got its independence in 2006. Denmark lost 1-0 in Copenhagen by a goal heavily created by their star player Stevan Jovetic and tapped in by Fatos Beciraj. This was not part of the script. Newly hired head coach Aage Hareide was lost for words in the post-match press conference and came under pressure after just 3 games from most of the Danish population and media.
Denmark then played Kazakhstan twice and won by a margin of 7-1 while also drawing 0-0 against Romania away. Poland won all of their matches simply by playing perhaps the most clinical striker at the current time Robert Lewandowski who netted 8 times in 4 matches. He even ended as the qualifiers’ top scorer with 16 goals for his country ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
By now Denmark were third in the standings behind Poland and Montenegro and faced leaders Poland next, a game they had to win if they were to take the number two spot from Montenegro who failed to win their last two games. The Poland game was the one where Denmark found their magic, and the wizard with wands for feet was Christian Eriksen. The home side won 4-0 in Copenhagen with the Spurs player named man of the match.
Perhaps playing some of his best football for both club and country, Eriksen assisted Thomas Delaney to make it 1-0 before feeding Atalanta’s Andreas Cornelius to double the lead. Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jørgensen then scored to make it 3-0, before Eriksen ended the game with a long range screamer. Poland didn’t have a sniff on goal while the Danes were firing on all cylinders. Denmark won the next game versus Montenegro to solidify second spot but sadly drew the last game versus Romania 1-1 at home. However the play-off position was safe allowing Fernando Hierro to pair Denmark with the Republic of Ireland for a place in Russia next year.
The players to look out for
There’s no point denying it. Denmark’s go-to player is Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. The 25-year-old playmaker is the one that makes them tick. If he has a good game, Denmark has a good game. Vice-versa if he has a poor one.
But it’s interesting to note that there is another midfielder for whom this tie might be a bit special. That man is Thomas Delaney. His name alone doesn’t sound very Danish. And while he does have some Irish heritage, his father is American, mother Danish and Thomas himself was born in Denmark. He plays as a box-to-box midfielder for both the national team and his club Werder Bremen. This season he has taken his new club by storm and has already been linked with bigger sides like Everton etc. A proven goalscorer and known as a nice person, his could be a story in the works when Denmark play Ireland.
“Are you happy with the draw?”
To come back to the question, considering the history, no, this was not a good draw for Denmark. Last time out, we lost 4-0. These two games might be the ones to watch of all the European play-offs but the fans don’t necessarily share this emotion. There have been several tweets and comments on Danish football forums about the intensity and raw physical presence of the way Ireland plays. Perhaps not for both sets of supporters with so much at stake, but this could be a great game for the neutral.
Claus Røndbjerg-Christensen is the Chief Editor and manager of the @DanishFooty account on Twitter.