Macdara Ferris in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium
In reality the Scandi drama served in Copenhagen on Saturday night was actually a pretty tame affair. Ahead of the game Aage Hareide, the Norwegian manager of Denmark had said “0-0 would be okay” for his team and that was the score that he got; it was a scoreline that the Republic of Ireland team were probably quite content to take back to the Aviva too.
The narrative ahead of kick off was around the large number of yellow cards that both teams carried into the game – 15 of the starters it turned out - but all those actors will get to grace the Aviva Stadium stage for the second leg as Serbian referee Milorad Mazic kept his cards in his pocket all night.
Those possible suspensions seemed to influence the game – even if the talk before the match was that it wouldn’t. We did see an early heavy challenge from James McClean that was clean but it wasn’t the most physical of battles – nothing like we had seen between Wales and Ireland last month anyway.
Denmark dominated possession with Ireland happy enough to sit off, with Robbie Brady playing in the hole behind Daryl Murphy who continued up front for Ireland. Mostly, though, Brady sat in the midfield as Ireland went five across the middle when they weren’t in possession.
The Danes went close on the double-double with two different rebound opportunities in the first half – both of which came their way after Darren Randolph had pushed saves back out into his box.
The 'keeper had to be at his best to keep out the Danes 12 minutes in. The left back Jens Stryger Larsen got forward and in behind Callum O’Dowda. He got his shot away, one that Randolph palmed away to his right.
The ball came to Andrea Cornelius and Randolph saved again, this time taking the low rebound from the Atalanta player - just about preventing the ball from being dragged back over his own line.
Ireland had kept Eriksen relatively quiet in the opening period but just after the half hour mark, another rebound opportunity came the way of the Danes, thanks to the Spurs striker.
Randolph again batted one out – this time off Eriksen from outside the box. Pione Sisto got to the ball and with the goal at his mercy put it by the post. Ireland really rode their luck with that one as Stephen Ward had come ever so close to putting the ball through his own net off Sisto’s shot.
Having had a Cardiff like opening with the home team dominating possession (with two thirds of the play), eventually Ireland began to make use of the ball that they did have.
Six minutes from the break, Stephen Ward and James McClean linked up on the left. McClean showed his typical battling qualities to chase after his own ball all the way to the end line.
His cross came to Callum O'Dowda, who was the surprise start in O’Neill’s team, but the Bristol City midfielder’s effort was blocked by Thomas Delaney.
Just on half time Cyrus Christie made the best chance of the opening period all on his own. He raided down the right and cheekily knocked the ball by Jens Stryger Larsen to bear down on Kapser Schmeichel's goal.
The Leicester City 'keeper stood tall and saved Christie’s close in effort. The ball came to Jeff Hendrick. The Burnley player may have been best placed just to blast it but he jinked inside only for his delayed shot was headed behind by William Kvist for a corner.
In the second half Ireland restricted Denmark to more shots from distance and a couple of set pieces to swing into the Irish box – a scenario that Ciaran Clark and particularly Shane Duffy were happy to deal with.
Martin O’Neill did bring on Shane Long late in the game as he had one eye on an away goal that would have set up the second act brilliantly for Ireland in Dublin but Long was restricted to a couple of long shots only.
There was some late goal mouth drama though. A minute from time Brady lifted a free into the box and Duffy’s header went goalwards but straight at Schmeichel.
At the other end Poulsen went even close with Randolph tipping his effort over for a corner. The Danes swung a couple of crosses in that Randolph dealt with before the final whistle.
The Ireland players trooped off the pitch with the heads held high and were given a standing ovation by the pocket of fans clad in green who stood by the tunnel.
The Boys in Green return home to see if they can get the win in the second leg – nobody wants to be at home watching the World Cup drama on their TV next summer.
Denmark: Kasper Schmeichel; Peter Ankersen, Simon Kjaer ©, Andreas Bjelland, Jens Stryger Laresen; Thomas Delaney, William Kvist, Christian Eriksen; Andreas Cornelius (Yussuf Poulsen 64), Nicolai Jorgensen, Pione Sisto (Nicklas Bendtner 72).
Subs Not Used: Jonas Lossl, Jesper Hansen, Andreas Christensen, Jannik Vestergaard, Mathias Jørgensen, Lukas Lerager, Lasse Schone, Jonas Knudsen, Mike Jensen, Viktor Fischer.
Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward; Harry Arter (Glenn Whelan 88); Callum O’Dowda, Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane 90+3), Robbie Brady, James McClean; Daryl Murphy (Shane Long 74).
Subs Not Used: Kieren Westwood, Rob Elliot, John O’Shea, Matt Doherty, Kevin Long, Paul McShane, Aiden McGeady, Wes Hoolahan, Scott Hogan.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Darren Randolph (Republic of Ireland).