Sunday 19 November 2017

World Cup play off: Advantage Ireland after Boys in Green defy Denmark

Denmark 0 Republic of Ireland 0

James McClean
James McClean
Darren Randolph makes a crucial saves from Yussuf Poulsen’s header during last night’s World Cup play-off at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

Fireworks before a ball was even kicked but the boos on the final whistle from the Danish supporters after a drab and tense first leg was a reflection of an opportunity missed for Age Hareide and his players.

At the halfway stage of a play-off which was always going to be close, Ireland will feel the job is half done. But they will have to play significantly better to take their place among the World Cup finalists in Russia.

Daryl Murphy clashes with Simon Kjær. Photo: Sportsfile
Daryl Murphy clashes with Simon Kjær. Photo: Sportsfile
Denmark's Kasper Schmeichel. Photo: Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill has preserved Wes Hoolahan to provide the inspirational spark in Dublin and the Ireland manager will know that his players need far more quality in possession to see off a Denmark team who have to create more chances on their travels.

Darren Randolph was kept to two clinical but straight-forward saves in either half. Ireland defended resolutely. Going forward they were awful. It added up to a result to remember and a performance to quickly erase.

And they can only pray that Christian Eriksen decides not to turn up again. The Danish No10 looked a forlorn figure throughout the game, dropping deeper and deeper as Ireland booted every decent attack into the distance.

One of the few opportunities Randolph had to keep out came on 10 minutes. A long diagonal ball from the back caught the inexperienced right side of the Irish side unaware. Danish captain Simon Kjaer's sweeping pass from the halfway line found left-back Jens Stryger Larsen, who had made a surging run behind Cyrus Christie and Callum O'Dowda. Randolph kept out his near-post half-volley but the rebound fell to Andreas Cornelius, who could only shoot into the arms of Randolph as he threw himself back into the centre of goal.

The Danes' dangerman Eriksen spent the first 20 minutes trying to get any time on the ball, without success. It was to become his routine for the night. One early run from halfway inside the Irish half was halted by Christie's firm tackle.

And when Peter Ankersen and William Kvist were unable to find a gap in the packed Ireland defence on their right, the ball was played into the Tottenham playmaker, who shot first time from 30 yards but Randolph again gathered his awkward, bouncing shot.

Denmark's Kasper Schmeichel. Photo: Sportsfile
Denmark's Kasper Schmeichel. Photo: Sportsfile

A few minutes later, after Robbie Brady had wasted a free-kick from a promising position on the right, responsibility for the long-range effort fell to Nicolai Jorgensen but he failed to hit the target.

When Eriksen was gifted room from an uncharacteristically awful Ciaran Clark clearance, just after half-an-hour, the hosts should have taken the lead. Temporary captain Clark made a mess of a routine volley from Kasper Schmeichel's long punt, playing the ball into Eriksen's path. His shot moved in the air, forcing Randolph into a scrambled save, and the loose ball eventually fell to Pione Sisto, who somehow missed the target, plus Stephen Ward who was sliding back to the goal-line and could have made an unfortunate touch into his own net.

Aside from Brady's poor set-piece deliveries, Ireland didn't seriously threaten Schmeichel's goal until seven minutes before the break when James McClean's persistence down the left created an opening for O'Dowda, who was unable to control the bouncing cross. Christie reached Andreas Bjelland's clearance and his cross back into the middle was too high for McClean.

Encouraged by that, Ireland went close again just before half-time when Christie burst into the area past Larsen and tried to slot the ball over Schmeichel but the Leicester keeper spread himself to keep his shot out. The rebound fell to Jeff Hendrick but Thomas Delaney headed his chip behind.

Ireland's Harry Arter in action against Denmark's Andreas Cornelius. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Harry Arter in action against Denmark's Andreas Cornelius. Photo: Sportsfile

The pattern remained the same after the interval and the two coaches, once team-mates and room-mates at Norwich, both became increasingly frustrated but for very different reasons.

For Hareide, as the hour mark came and went, his side's inability to find a breakthrough forced him into his first change, while Christie was having treatment after taking a Sisto volley in face. Hareide sent on Yussuf Poulsen for Cornelius, who barely had a touch. Poulsen's first act was a foul on Harry Arter, followed by a teasing shot, from outside the area, which flew narrowly wide.

Ireland were simply too wasteful on the few occasions they had the ball. In the first ten minutes of the second-half Arter, Hendrick and Brady all booted the ball hopelessly into touch. O'Neill screamed for some composure and quality. Brady floated a free-kick into the area and the ball fell at Clark's feet but the Newcastle defender was unable to turn towards goal and shoot.

Ireland's Callum O'Dowda of Republic keeps possession ahead of Denmark's Pione Sisto. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Callum O'Dowda of Republic keeps possession ahead of Denmark's Pione Sisto. Photo: Sportsfile

With 20 minutes left on the clock, Hareide sent on Nicklas Bendtner and O'Neill replaced Daryl Murphy with Shane Long. Bendtner's first act was a nasty foul on Arter, who in turn was fortunate to escape a caution for a cynical foul on Kvist which would have ruled him out of Tuesday's second leg. McClean also escaped unpunished by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic for a trip on Kvist.

Arter eventually departed three minutes before the end when cramp got the better of him, perhaps a reflection of the distance he had covered once again, and O'Neill sent on Glenn Whelan for his 84th cap to steady a nervy Irish back-line.

The Aston Villa man quickly won a free-kick and from Brady's teasing centre, Shane Duffy headed straight into Schmeichel's arms.

And that sparked the home side into life and they created more danger in the final minutes and added time than they had for the majority of the game. Randolph tipped a Poulsen header over his bar from a Larsen cross before the Udinese defender hit a low drive from the edge of the area which clipped Christie's toes and went wide. Larsen also had the final effort of the night which predictably flew into a very frustrated home crowd.

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