Saturday 17 February 2018

'Defensively it was really good. Offensively it wasn't that strong' - Nicklas Bendtner on Ireland's display

Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen gets a ball in the face while challenging Stephen Ward. Photo: Sportsfile
Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen gets a ball in the face while challenging Stephen Ward. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Well past midnight beneath the Parken Stadium and perhaps appropriate that the parked Irish bus should once more muffle Christian Eriksen's efforts to express himself.

Asked to sum up just how heavily the expectations of a nation weigh upon his shoulders alone, he sighs before attempting to explain.

But the bus won't let him. Emitting a monstrous roar, and puffing dismissive petrol fumes, articulation is violently muted. The bus has had the final, decisive word. A round of Olés; bualadh bos for the bus.

Earlier, Eriksen had trudged from the fray with the deepest disappointment of one who has turned up at a concert hall preparing to perform a piano suite yet instead finds himself standing astride an organ grinder.

The Irish fans acclaimed him, perhaps in part apology for their team's complicity in this nightmare amidst the land of fairytale, but Eriksen mistakes their appreciation. He should know better; the Irish supporters cheer everything, even women emerging from lingerie shops.

The great Dane, now a vastly diminished Dane, juts a finger derisively towards the ground, a defiant declaration that Ireland's hopes will be buried there come tomorrow evening.

Conspired

Then again, he may merely have been apologetically pointing out to his green-clad glad-handlers the pitch that also conspired to ensure this was a night when matters were clearly rotten for the state of Denmark.

To be fair, Eriksen hardly expected anything different.

"They were the away team, they wanted to stop us from scoring. I can't blame them," he said.

Nor too Nicklas Bendtner; not quite the standard of fare that he once enjoyed in the Premier League, then?

"Not really!" he laughs. Wearing an improbably youthful ensemble - backwards baseball cap, shoelace-less sneakers, slacks which could do with an extra two inches of leg - he could sneer at us as if we were all dressed in dungarees.

But he doesn't. Well, not quite. Maybe stonewashed jeans.

"I would like to play a match where you have exciting football but you also have to accept sometimes you see a match different ways," he says.

"And you also have to give credit to the Irish team the way they performed their strategy. Defensively for them it was really good. Offensively it wasn't that strong."

Martin O'Neill had warned us that Bendtner was capable of being unplayable but he was retreating into history with that claim; a bit like this contest, itself utterly unplayable.

Tomorrow, one senses, must be different as Ireland surely cannot simply roll the dice and chance to thrive on luck amidst the muck?

"They played the same style through all of qualification, so I don't think it will change that much on Tuesday," Eriksen laments.

"At home, they might be a bit more adventurous with the fans at their back, but I don't think it will change too much. They will be scared of us scoring a goal, that would be a big hit. The first goal is very important."

Denmark, it must be repeated, own their share of culpability for the absence of finesse and flair; Eriksen sighs as he reflects on the "long ball" to which his side remain more than occasionally tethered.

Perhaps the pre-match fireworks fired up unnecessarily optimistic hopes that imaginations would be similarly sparked by the players.

"You saw the fireworks and everything - then the game came and was a little bit flat," adds Bendtner, with a degree of charity, until even that mercy is strained, momentarily.

"It wasn't a f***ing...sorry, it wasn't an exciting match."

With the stakes now so high, no second chances, something must develop in Dublin. A game of ball would be nice.

"It's going to be a little bit more open," promises Bendtner.

"They will come a little bit more out which will also allow us to get more space. So it will be a more interesting match to watch than this one.

"We can play better. The pitch was disappointing. It made it difficult for both teams.

"Our normal passing game, where you can play one or two touch, couldn't really come off because the pitch was so difficult so that changed the match a lot.

Excellent

"And a lot of the stuff we've been talking about couldn't quite happen because of it. But I've heard the pitch in Ireland is excellent so I suppose we can play better."

Unless, of course, the Irish are willing to let the grass grow under their feet.

After all, as Shane Duffy reminds us, not many will care if it is ugly once Ireland reach their destination. There are those who quibble but substance trumps style for the vast majority.

And you suspect the Danes would not refuse an 89th-minute winner via Cornelius' backside, on this limited evidence arguably his most potent asset.

For Eriksen, star of a team who downed European champions Real Madrid so recently, and whose club ambitions dwarf those of any Irishman, a passage to Russia would trump all.

"It would mean a lot for me personally and for the country overall," he says, agreeing that tomorrow's game takes precedence over any with a cockerel upon his breast. Getting to a World Cup is one of the biggest things you can do for your country."

The burden is a weighty one and it wore him down here as the traffic choked him. They remain confident in the fact that should Ireland remain as toothless and guileless, they can score the goal they require. And they will have two hours to do so if necessary.

"We're going down there to try to win the match," insists Bendtner. "What's going to happen I can't say. But we're prepared to play 120 minutes if that's what it takes."

This is the land of fairytale but even Hans Christian Andersen had his dark side; after all, the Little Mermaid does have her tongue cut out at the end of her story, denying her forever more the opportunity of expression, too.

On Sunday morning, her statue lounges lazily in the harbour. Draped around her neck, an Irish flag. The Danish have been muted. The question, now, is can Ireland find their voice?

Irish Independent

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