Sport International Soccer

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Song remains the same as Ireland huff and puff but are unable to land a telling blow'

Captain Shane Duffy reacts at the final whistle at the Aviva. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Captain Shane Duffy reacts at the final whistle at the Aviva. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

And so we knew at the end of 90 minutes what we knew before it all started.

Denmark hardly ever lose games, Ireland rarely score goals or win matches. And on we tumble, then, into the play-offs, a battle in March, probably with Slovakia at first and then, if we're lucky enough, Bosnia or Northern Ireland.

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Getting to Euro 2020 now means Ireland going through the back door and gaining two wins in a play-off situation.

And for all the endeavour, all the positivity shown by the team in green last night, it's that elusive hunt for a winning mentality, a victory dance, which leaves the team in danger of extinction as far as Euro 2020 is concerned.

Shane Duffy playing as a centre forward for the last few minutes shows the extent of desperation in the Ireland side, his passion and drive for a goal just not enough.

Even the sight of Kasper Schmeichel being booked for time wasting in the dying minutes was like having Irish noses rubbed in it, yet more annoyance at the hands of those Danes.

Copenhagen will get to see Denmark play in the Euros next summer as co-hosts but Dublin could be forced to open its doors for the final with no representation from the Republic.

A year on from the exit of Martin O'Neill, some of the faces have changed, some of the lyrics are different, but the song remains the same - this Irish side just lacks the ability to put teams away.

The team has improved and evolved. But it's still lacking what's needed.

Mick McCarthy, a teak-tough defender in his playing days, when Ireland were ranked in the top eight in the world, has managed to tighten things up at the back, Ireland in his reign no longer as porous as before.

The goals don't come with the same frequency but when they come, they come with a wallop.

And the problem remains for McCarthy: creating chances, scoring goals, winning games. Irish players have scored just six goals in the group (one of our six goals was an OG): Christian Eriksen alone, who had a relatively quiet night here, has scored five for Denmark in the group stage, and they are anything but a one-man band.

Chances fell Ireland's way in the first half but they lacked the menace, the accuracy, to threaten Schmiechel. It was promising, but promise was not enough, would not be enough unless they could conjure up a goal.

Every single member of the Danish camp who spoke in the build-up to this game noted the threat from set pieces of Duffy.

They'd all analysed Ireland's games in the campaign but even a ten-year-old with access to Wikipedia, knew that while no Ireland player had scored more than one goal in the group to date, Duffy was still the biggest threat to Schmeichel's goal.

But when the set pieces came Ireland's way, the Danes were wise to the threat, never letting Duffy out of their sight for even a second.

Our game plan was flagged in advance: keep it tight, get it to the 70-minute mark, and push for the win.

Someone did that but not the hosts, it was the visitors. Martin Braithwaite's goal on 75 minutes came against the run of play, but was enough for the Danes to go ahead and Matt Doherty's equaliser was, in the end, of no value.

We talk, and talk too often, about Ireland teams being cursed, this game coming after a period of days where we all wallowed again in the pain of losing to France in a World Cup play-off, reminding ourselves that the so-called Luck of the Irish is a myth.

Good fortune smiled on Ireland in Dublin last night, the Danish game plan torn to shreds by two enforced substitutions in the opening half.

Those changes to the Danish side had widened the scope for Ireland to push on but the absent midfield threat left Ireland on the way out .

Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane, again, could not impact the game and that's an area that McCarty needs to fix to win not one, but two play-offs.

Hendrick's game perked up in the second half and he was more composed, more of a force, but it was not enough.

A bit like the group overall: good but nowhere near good enough, Ireland asked questions of the Danes but the visitors had answers.

Make a slip, as Ireland did to let in Braithwaite, and you suffer, fail to score and you suffer. More pain to come.

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