Tuesday 20 March 2018

Martin O'Neill: We must stop Christian Eriksen

Spurs star main obstacle to Russia after Ireland draw Danes in play-off

Denmark's Christian Eriksen. Photo: Reuters
Denmark's Christian Eriksen. Photo: Reuters
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill has highlighted the influence of Christian Eriksen as the main threat to Ireland's Russian ambitions after the World Cup play-off draw set up a two-legged showdown with Denmark.

The Irish delegation in Zurich were happy with that outcome as the Danes were the lowest-ranked seeded side with O'Neill fearful of landing Italy.

Ireland's manager was also keen to play the second leg in Dublin and that wish came to pass with the first leg in Copenhagen on Saturday, November 11 before the decider takes place at the Aviva three days later on Tuesday, November 14.

However, O'Neill has respect for a Danish side that made it to this stage with a stirring run in the autumn that was inspired by Eriksen. He scored in each of Denmark's final five games in their group and four wins and a draw put Age Hareide's charges into second spot behind Poland.

"If you consider the Danish run just recently, he (Eriksen) has masterminded nearly all of the proceedings. He seemed to pop up with the most important goals," said O'Neill.

"He's playing brilliantly at the moment and scores a lot of goals which is going to be very important for Denmark. I think we have to be careful.

"They have a number of decent players and we have to stay in the match until we get to Dublin."

In the short term, Irish preparations will focus on having their leading players available for the game.

O'Neill is still planning without Seamus Coleman and Jon Walters with no expectation they will defy medical predictions and come back in time.

Shane Duffy was the leading Irish performer in a stirring defensive display in Cardiff and O'Neill is hopeful that the Brighton player will be back after sustaining a groin injury against Everton on Sunday.

Sean Maguire is another doubt after tweaking his hamstring while playing for Preston against Fulham on Saturday.

"I spoke to Shane and he was concerned about it but the pain was lessening," said O'Neill. "I watched young Maguire and he was excellent for half an hour, so I'm hoping that it's going to be two weeks; we'll see.

Concern "Lots can happen between now and the play-offs. That'll be a concern, waiting around. It's the injuries up to then which could be the biggest problem."

For Irish fans, sourcing tickets for Copenhagen will be a challenge. The Parken Stadium has a 38,000 capacity and the minimum five per cent allocation would provide just 1,900 seats.

Securing a greater number of tickets would be dependent on the two associations striking a deal that would be reciprocated for the Aviva Stadium leg. O'Neill is keen for a substantial Irish support similar to the win in Cardiff that teed up this chance for glory.

"When the euphoria dies down and you wake up a few mornings later, you looked at the draw, and you are thinking of trying to avoid Italy," said O'Neill. "We've got the chance to play in Dublin for the second game. Let's just go for it."

Irish Independent

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