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03:13 was the alarm call on Friday morning to travel out for the first leg of the FIFA World Cup play-off between Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
Getting up so early really is only suitable if you are making a summit push on Everest - although getting to the World Cup is a monumental task. The first flight out of Dublin Airport has a sizeable section of the passengers whose ultimate destination, they hope, is Russia 2018 via Frankfurt first and then Copenhagen!
By midday we’ve landed in the Danish capital in plenty of time to get to the pre-match press conferences in the Parken Stadium. Denmark’s Norwegian manager Aage Hareide is first up and is flanked by Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Eriksen. Schmeichel gives us the Roy Keane quotes that we want.
Afterwards the Danes train on the pitch sheltered from the heavy rain outside by the closed roof to the stadium. When the roof is in this position, it is supported by two massive temporary columns on either side of the halfway line (see video below). By Saturday night, the columns are gone and the roof is open.
Ball back and forth above the flag ???????? pic.twitter.com/m5KzqlKY5C— Macdara Ferris (@macdarabueller) November 10, 2017
Martin O’Neill and Robbie Brady speak to the media before Ireland train. As usual, the first 15 minutes are open for the press to watch but the session is cut short afterwards as the Ireland manager reckons the session is being watched.
The Parken Stadium has a capacity of less than 40,000 with the stand at the dressing room end having offices and functions rooms in the upper tier with a great view out over the pitch.
You’d like to think that most of Ireland’s work for the game had been carried out prior to turning up for the pre-match training session and that curtailing it didn’t really affect the Boys in Green.
Back in Copenhagen city centre later in the evening, we check out just how expensive the food and drink is. It is €5 for a soft drink and €8 for a ¾-litre beer but actually the beer turns out to be free for one member of the Irish press corps. The cost of it being knocked into his lap by the waiter!
Match day allows the opportunity to explore some of the sites of Copenhagen. There is the superb Superkilen public park in the working class district of Norrebro, designed by Bjarne Ingles Group and Toptek1. The park celebrates diversity and is a playground for folks of all ages – slides, skateboards and chess boards.
The Copenhagen local elections take place on 21 November and the city, like back home during our elections, is plastered with posters. When I watched Danish Scandi drama Borgen I thought it wasn’t too representative of real politics but the real life candidates are just as handsome and beautiful as the TV characters!
Lunch is had across the city on Paper Island at Copenhagen Street Food with a view of Henning Larsen’s stunning Opera House. There are plenty of Irish fans amongst the throng of Copenhagen citizens enjoying food from the 40 stalls with cuisine from around the globe.
Walking across the inner harbour bridge, like a siren call, the Irish fans can be heard on approach to the city centre. Outside the Dubliner bar it is a typical Ireland away day scene with footballs being kicked in the air, lots of bags of cans and Ireland supporters in full song.
I meet up with a couple of friends who have travelled out with an Irish travel agent who has sourced them tickets in the home end.
With just under 2,500 official tickets made available to the FAI by the Danes – and over 1,000 of them allocated to the…eh…’football family’ – demand for tickets by the traveling Boys and Girls in Green is high.
Atmosphere building outside the Parken Stadium - will the Danes be celebrating again at the final whistle? pic.twitter.com/UlUFpvqRYW— Extratime.ie (@ExtratimeNews) November 11, 2017
There had been trouble in the ground at the group game between Denmark and Poland earlier in the campaign when away fans had tickets in the home end. With this in mind Danish authorities stated that “verbal support to the visiting team from people outside the away section, will result in expulsion if considered a safety-related necessity.”
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, along with the FAI, had been working with the Danish FA and police to ensure there wouldn’t disturbances in the stadium – there was a fan zone in the city centre where fans without tickets were encouraged to watch the game.
Wear red and keep quiet looks to be the advice for Ireland fans in the Danish end pic.twitter.com/29RYUlzaI9— Extratime.ie (@ExtratimeNews) November 10, 2017
My friends were able to get into the game with their Denmark end tickets but there were reports of some Ireland fans who were refused entry to the Danish section of the ground.
Ahead of kick off there was a big firework display that lit up the sky above the stadium – a display which caught Shane Duffy by surprise!
Love Shane Duffy getting scared by fireworks. pic.twitter.com/5LhSwP2Bc5— James Fenton (@fentonjames16) November 11, 2017
However on the pitch there wasn’t a lot of brilliant play to light up the occasion. Duffy and Clarke were thankfully able to keep the much hyped Christian Eriksen quiet and Darren Randolph pulled off a trio of top saves to keep the game scoreless.
It wasn't a case of 'Birgitte Nyborg - your boys took one hell of a beating last night'. There really wasn't much Scandi drama after a Moderate display by both teams https://t.co/qw6B3kZPJn— Macdara Ferris (@macdarabueller) November 12, 2017
Martin O’Neill had sprung a slight surprise with his starting XI by bringing Callum O’Dowda into the team for his first competitive start away from home. While O’Neill spoke afterwards that O’Dowda “did well with a couple of runs” it wasn’t exactly a great review with what followed.
“I don’t it was particularly his fault if he didn’t get into the game early on,” said O’Neill. “We just couldn’t get the ball to him. He came into it though and did the defensive game when he had to.”
O’Neill admitted that his team “will have to show a bit more creativity during the course of the game in the Aviva. I think we are capable of doing that, urged on by a good crowd.”
He certainly has a few more options with David Meyler back from suspension and Wes Hoolahan always more likely to start in a game in the Aviva.
O’Neill quickly departed and the Danish media event was made more interesting when an Irish Sunday Times journalist described the game as not “a good advertisement for international football” asking who was to blame for that?
“I don’t know what you expect from international football,” said Aage Hareide who was bristled in response to the question. “What’s the problem? You can say what you want. I wouldn’t say that. No, I don’t think it was a poor game.
“We created chances. It is okay to have chances in a game? We had the ball 65%. We played well enough to win. If we play like that in Dublin, we will.”
In the mix-zone that followed pitchside, Nicklas Bendtner, a man always happy for a bit of publicity, stopped for a chat with the assembled Irish press core.
O’Neill had described him the previous day as a “good footballer and when he set his mind to it, he was excellent.” Damning praise indeed!
Bendtner kind of agreed with the assessment of the Sunday Times about the game saying “it wasn’t really an exciting match…There was the excitement, the hype and fireworks (ahead of kick off) but the game was a bit flat.”
Fireworks off the pitch but not on it in the Parken Stadium - post-match reaction from Niklas Bendtner and a somewhat heated Denmark manager on a cool night in Copenhagen https://t.co/a9z8CfdmRY pic.twitter.com/njtWhQmh7E— Extratime.ie (@ExtratimeNews) November 12, 2017
The first leg 0-0 scoreline will inevitably be spun as a good result by whichever team eventually goes through to the World Cup after Tuesday’s second leg. That prize of a place in Russia 2018 is tantalisingly close with a reward of over €10m to the winner.
The Irish team, supporters and the FAI bank balance will take any kind of win in the second leg or even a nerve-wracking penalty shoot out victory. Maybe time to book those early flights to Russia then?