Thursday 16 August 2018

Ireland's World Cup play-off dates with Denmark confirmed as Martin O'Neill reacts to draw

Ireland Manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Manager Roy Keane
Ireland Manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Manager Roy Keane
9 October 2017; James McClean, second from right, of Republic of Ireland celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn against Denmark in the World Cup play-offs.

Northern Ireland will face Switzerland for a spot in the finals.

Both nations avoided four-time winners Italy and will be hopeful of booking their place in Russia next summer.

Ireland will play the first leg in Copenhagen on Saturday, November 11 with the return match the following Tuesday in the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland ended their Group D qualification campaign on 19 points, the same as their northern neighbours, as Serbia topped the group.

A James McClean goal was enough for Martin O'Neill's side to win in Wales last week and secure the play-off berth at the expense of their hosts.

Denmark missed out on the 2014 World Cup but finished second in Group E behind winners Poland as they look to book their fifth appearance at the finals.

Croatia play Greece with Italy and Sweden drawn together in the most eye-catching of the play-off fixtures.

"Naturally, we're just pleased to be in the draw," O'Neill told reporters afterwards.

"Being unseeded means it was always going to be a difficult tie. We're delighted to be in it.

"I know the Denmark manager, we used to play together. It will be an interesting confrontation.

"Now let's take our chance. I'm delighted to be drawn away from home first, so we'll try to get some sort of advantage, or negate their advantage, before we get to Dublin.

"That could have a big impact on proceedings, but we have to be going to Dublin with something still to play for. If you ask most coaches, you want the second game at home. But with the rules like extra time, it gives the away team that chance to score in 120 minutes.

"We have momentum and that's important. We won the last two games to get here. I'm now concerned with the next couple of weeks and making sure my players don't get injuries at club level."

DENMARK

Coach: Age Hareide

Star man: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)

One to watch: Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen)

FIFA ranking: 19th

STADIUM: Parken Stadium, 38,065 capacity.

Tottenham midfielder Eriksen is the talisman of this Danish side, with his eight goals in qualifying propelling them to a second place finish in a qualifying campaign that included defeats against Poland and Montenegro.

They head into the play-offs in upbeat mood, after a fine 4-0 win against eventual Group E qualifiers Poland in September banished pessimism that dominated the first half of their efforts to claim top spot and automatic qualification.

"It means a lot for us to be seeded. We would rather avoid teams like Italy, Switzerland and Croatia, so it was important. It can make it easier for us, but it will be hard anyway," declares coach Hareide.

"The four teams play in four different ways. Perhaps Northern Ireland and Ireland are slightly the same, but Sweden and Greece each have their own style and we have to adapt to the team we get."

Aside from a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick in October 2016, Denmark's defensive line held firm for most of the qualifying push, with captain Simon Kjaer a key figure in their engine room.

Werder Bremen midfielder Thomas Delaney caught the eye with a hat-trick against Armenia and Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel will be a familiar last line of defence if he is lining up in Dublin next month.

VERDICT: Denmark are a team with momentum behind them after some recent good results and Eriksen could unsettle an Irish midfield lacking the suspended David Meyler for the play-off first leg, but they are not the most potent in their forward line.

Online Editors

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