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Republic of Ireland v Denmark: O'Neill has template for qualification success

James McLean's midfield harrying is a major weapon for the Irish
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The Republic of Ireland know how to harry and chase their way through a two-legged qualification tie and have a chance of upsetting the odds when they face Denmark for a spot at the 2018 World Cup, says Daniel McDonnell...

"Ultimately, although the [2.44] outsiders in the Betfair Exchange 'To Qualify' market, it would not be a major shock if Martin O'Neill's men knocked the Scandinavians out of the competition and booked a trip to Russia."

Next summer will be the 16th anniversary of the Republic of Ireland's last appearance at a World Cup, an adventure that is remembered as much for the build-up as the tournament itself.

The current assistant manager, Roy Keane, has just about reached about the point where Saipan doesn't come up any more - although to say that definitively is to tempt fate.

Ireland's last serious flirtation with a World Cup was eight years ago, a play-off that also ended up making headlines around the world for all of the wrong reasons courtesy of Thierry Henry's handball and the circus that developed from it.

Eriksen gives Danes the edge in closely matched tie


So in a strange way, the Irish football public would probably prefer if the play-off with Denmark which kicks off this Saturday ultimately only turned out to be a major story at home.

And that hints at the attraction of drawing the Danes compared to some of the other options that were available from a draw.
Ultimately, although the [2.44] outsiders in the Betfair Exchange 'To Qualify' market, it would not be a major shock if Martin O'Neill's men knocked the Scandinavians out of the competition and booked a trip to Russia.

A tie with 2006 champions Italy - who instead drew Sweden - would have prompted the usual David v Goliath style build-up. Croatia would have been massive favourites over two legs, too.

Denmark is a challenge that Ireland can handle, although O'Neill has stressed that the side managed by his former Manchester City and Norwich team-mate Age Hareide deserve to be the punters' pick.

That's what you would expect O'Neill to say anyway, but it's a valid observation based on the personnel available to each boss.

In truth, it's the presence of Christian Eriksen in the Danish dressing room which inspires that conclusion; it's possible those 'To Qualify' odds would be flipped in the other direction if the Spurs playmaker just happened to be from Monaghan rather than the beautifully named Middelfart.

"He's playing exceptionally well in a team that have just beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League, and we have to give him the respect he deserves," said O'Neill on Monday.

Tight first leg looks likely


The Derryman is content with the order of fixtures, with an away leg in Copenhagen on Saturday before the decider in Dublin three days later.

That's despite the fact that Ireland have actually toiled at the Aviva Stadium in this campaign, with their major victories coming in Vienna and Cardiff with the backs against the wall; they've found it harder when the emphasis is on them in Dublin to go and dominate.

But the quickfire two-legged scenario is different. Two years ago, Ireland were away first in the Euro 2016 playoff with Bosnia and O'Neill's men were solid in a 1-1 draw where the away goal gave them the advantage coming back home. They managed the game very well tactically and secured an impressive 2-0 win with Bosnia frozen in the headlights.

That gives O'Neill a template for the week ahead. He is adamant that Ireland need to score in Denmark, but there will not be a cavalier approach as the priority is to hang in there and stay in the tie. The Danes weren't exactly chuffed to draw Ireland as they anticipate a dogfight and they will be expected to bring a lead with them to the second leg.

Irish tenacity won't charm but it can be very effective


They've suffered a few issues in the past week. First choice full back Henrik Dalsgaard is out while Sevilla centre back Simon Kjaer - Hareide's captain - tweaked a hamstring at the weekend. Striker Nicolai Jorgensen fractured his wrist playing for Feyenoord at the weekend and if he misses out then Nicklas Bendtner could well feature.

Ireland do have worries over Jeff Hendrick and stand-in captain David Meyler is suspended for the first leg but the major absentees - skipper Seamus Coleman, Jon Walters and James McCarthy - have been ruled out for some time and missed the October double header.

O'Neill managed Bendtner briefly in 2012 when the enigmatic attacker was on-loan from Arsenal at Sunderland. He joked that the Dane made a very good impression when he actually turned up; he preferred London life to the delights of the North-East. One didn't have to read too far between the lines to draw the conclusion that O'Neill was unsure about his character; whereas he is convinced that his Irish dressing room make the most of their ability.

They do give opposing sides a lot of the ball, but at concert pitch they then hassle them to the point where the spirit can be broken. Wales had lost all heart by the end of their derby defeat a month ago. The purists might well be more enthused by some of the other playoff contests that are going on this week, but this Irish team are not motivated by charming a new audience. They can leave that to the supporters if all roads end up leading to Russia.

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