On Monday the Boys in Green play Denmark for the sixth time in just over two years. Four of those games were drab draws, three 0-0’s while Shane Duffy salvaged a late 1-1 in Copenhagen earlier in this group.
The only occasion the two sides have been separated was the infamous 5-1 defeat in Dublin in 2017 that ended Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. Duffy again the scorer.
The contempt from a Danish point of view stems from the regularity of how Ireland has gotten results despite being the inferior team. The last meeting in June, for example, the Danes had the better of the play completed almost double the number of passes as their visitors (431 vs 221) but Shane Duffy’s 85th minute bullet header, Ireland’s only attempt on target, meant that the spoils were shared.Embed from Getty Images
Denmark’s star man Christian Eriksen held no punches with his post-match assessment, “They played like this in every game we’ve played. In the second game in Ireland, they wanted to go forward but they knew what happened when they went forward so that’s why they were too scared to go forward. That’s something we’ve learned, that teams are scared to come here.”
Rightly or wrongly this Ireland team doesn’t care too much about the outside opinion on style of play and expect Monday evening to be no different. It’s a straightforward task at hand, win and they are qualified by virtue of a better head to head record than Denmark. Anything less and that’s the end of the road for their Euro 2020 aspirations. Well barring Switzerland or Denmark drop points against Gibraltar. Instead a perilous Nations League play-off path awaits where Ireland would have to twice do what they couldn’t throughout this campaign, triumph in a must-win game.
“The individual who has the most at stake in this meeting is the Ireland manager Mick McCarthy. In his second spell, the ex-Sunderland and Ipswich man is trying to guide Ireland to another major tournament as boss. With Stephen Kenny due to take over after this campaign, it’s do or die for big Mick.”
Although Ireland need a victory and are fresh from a good 3-1 victory over New Zealand on Thursday in which the likes of Troy Parrot, Jack Byrne and Lee O’Connor started it is unlikely they will stray to far away from their usual gameplan. Expect them to set up cautiously with Glenn Whelan screening the defence and allowing the Danes the ball initially. The players will know all too well how Martin O’Neill’s gung-ho changes cost them in 2017.
They will be without teenage striker Aaron Connolly, the Brighton and Hove Albion man will be a loss as he has shown glimpses of real dynamism in this his breakout season. To add to that, captain Seamus Coleman is suspended following his red card against the Swiss last time out. This could be a blessing in disguise as it now allows Matt Doherty to start in his preferred position of right-back. The Wolves player has been Ireland’s top Premier League performer of recent times and will be equally comfortable in a back 4 or 5 depending which way they line up. This might be the game that kicks starts his international career.Embed from Getty Images
Expect David McGoldrick to play an important role too, his clever movement and link play was sorely missed against Georgia and Switzerland where Ireland looked toothless in attack failing to score in either game and picking up just one point. His poor goal record in this year’s Premier League is a false representation of what is Ireland’s first false 9.
Another Sheffield United player and 2019 senior player of the year Enda Stevens will be key. He has been solid in recent international games but was forced to play a deeper role than his regular left wing-back with McCarthy opting for an out-of-form James McClean against Switzerland instead. That was despite the Derry man losing the ball 26 times in his previous outing against Georgia. How Ireland line up in this area of the pitch on Monday will be vital.
The former European champions will come to Dublin buoyed with confidence knowing that a repeat of any of the last results will get them through. Despite a similar population pool, the Euro ’92 winners boast midfielders from Borussia Dortmund, Spurs and Ajax. Having to come out and play brings on the danger of the quick transitions from this cultured midfield.
You get the impression Mick would be happy to keep things tight and try and nick a 1-0 later on in the game but it could equally be that caution that is their undoing. It is true that Ireland’s recent record against Denmark is respectable but they now have to go and do something they haven’t done in any of the recent meetings and that is win. So by picking more defensive-minded players like Whelan and James McClean you run the risk of getting the same result again.
While generally respected among the Irish public McCarthy has had events and circumstance dotted throughout his two spells in charge that have split opinion. There were question marks when he took over initially and failed to qualify for France ’98, and in 2002 in Saipan when his spat with Roy Keane left and the entire country divided. He proved the doubters wrong in ’98 by building a new team and qualifying for the World Cup in 2002 and time has been good to him in the minds of the public with the Corkman’s subsequent persistent fallouts making him seem like the common denominator.
The problem Mick has had this time around is the indifference the public has shown towards the campaign. With Stephen Kenny waiting in the wings to take the main job next and a raft of exciting young players coming through there’s a sense of anticipation for this chapter to be over so a bright new one can finally start.
Of course, the Irish fans want nothing more than a victory and to qualify but if they fail to do so, the fans will move on to a new regime where Stephen Kenny will come in and bring fresh faces with him.
Thanks to what we assume is Ruud Dokter’s planning, Ireland fans are finally looking to the future with excitement but are faced with a typical oxymoron – akin to Spain’s la furia roja failure in the early ’00s which bred the next generation of players who won three major tournaments in a row. There needs to be a failure before there can be greatness but big Mick will be looking to delay that project.