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Macdara Ferris reports from Copenhagen
We have known about the Denmark Viking raids to Ireland for over a millennium but it is their home form that Ireland are initially focused on this Saturday with the Russia World Cup play-off first leg in Copenhagen.
The Danes finished their qualifying group strongly as runner up by five points behind table toppers Poland.
They lost away to the Poles and home Montenegro in their second and third qualifier but they then won six and drew two of their remaining games, including three straight wins away. They even extracted revenge over the Poles with an eye catching 4-0 home win.
The Denmark manager Age Hareide pretty much has a full squad to choose from for Saturday’s game in the Parken Stadium. Defender Henrik Dalsgaard is the most notable absentee but his Brentford teammate Andreas Bjelland is expected to play.
“Everybody is fit and ready to go,” said Hareide, speaking to the press on the eve of the game.
“We are prepared and we are working on our own way. Playing at home in Parken and getting the crowd behind us, we shall have a good go at them.”
Despite a broken wrist, Feyenoord’s Nicolai Jorgensen, who was top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie last year, is available and he will have the in-form Christian Eriksen playing in behind him. The 25-year-old Spurs striker has scored eight goals in the qualifying campaign to date.
Speaking to the press on Friday, Eriksen said “with my form, I am feeling very confident. The whole team should be at a World Cup with the quality and potential of the squad that we have and what we have shown that in qualification.”
Like Ireland, the Danes have several players who are a booking away from missing the second leg in Dublin. Walking the suspension tightrope in the likely starting line up are Simon Kjaer, Peter Ankersen, Nicolai Jorgensen, Yussuf Poulsen, Thomas Delaney, Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Eriksen
Denmark (Probable): Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City); Peter Ankersen (Copenhagen), Simon Kjaer (Seville) ©, Andreas Bjelland (Brentford), Jens Stryger Laresen (Udinese); Thomas Delaney (Werder Breman), William Kvist (FC Copenhagen); Yussuf Poulsen (Leipzig), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur), Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo); Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord).
For more from Age Hareide see – Hareide hoping for more happy days
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Martin O’Neill’s men are unbeaten in their last six competitive away matches going to Copenhagen for the FIFA World Cup playoff.
Irish supporters are dreaming that they can return to Dublin for Tuesday night’s game with that number increased to seven, giving them a great chance of making a first World Cup since 2002.
The Boys in Green lost just one match en-route to finishing runners up in Group D of the European Qualifiers for Russia 2018. In the playoff they come up against a high quality squad, according to Martin O’Neill.
“They have boys playing in top leagues around Europe,” said O’Neill in the pre-match press conference on Friday.
“They beat Poland 4-0 here and that got them going in the group and they have had a strong finish.”
O’Neill has had to deal with injuries to key players throughout the campaign but in finishing second in their qualifying group, his team have got somewhat used to that in the second half of the campaign – missing Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Jon Walters for the final few matches.
It is a similar situation for this game, along with stand-in skipper David Meyler missing out through suspension, but O’Neill doesn’t have too many difficult decisions in picking his starting line up. The defence picks itself with further up the field Wes Hoolahan likely to be held in reserve for the second leg.
It is expected that Glenn Whelan will be drafted in to hold in front of the back four alongside Jeff Hendrick who looks to have overcome his ‘glute’ issue and trained with the team on Friday. O’Neill told the assembled press pack in the Parken Stadium on Friday that both Stephen Ward and Hendrick will “both be fit.”
O’Neill could conceivably pick all ten players in his starting line up who carry yellow cards into the game. However he probably won’t start either Aiden McGeady or Daryl Murphy.
McGeady was O’Neill’s most used player off the bench in qualifying to date but Harry Arter maybe better placed to start. Shane Long is more likely to start up front which may be a bit harsh on Daryl Murphy who scored three times in qualifying.
Robbie Brady wasn’t overly concerned about those yellow cards when he spoke to the media on the eve of the game. “There are a few yellow cards going into the game but I don’t think you can concentrate too much on that,” said Brady who, with four yellow cards, has more than any other Irish player in this campaign.
“We have a job to do tomorrow night and we have to get that done. If we can avoid any more yellows along the way, that will be helpful. Denmark have got some fantastic players. It is going to be a really tough game.”
James McClean has been the star of the show for Ireland – particularly away from home. He scored four goals in qualification – all of which were away from the Aviva Stadium.
He scored in Vienna, Chisinaua and the only goal in Cardiff in the winner takes all game against Wales. Will the dragon slayer from Cardiff become the viking killer in Copenhagen?
Republic of Ireland (probable): Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Ciaran Clark, Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward; Harry Arter, Glenn Whelan, Jeff Hendrick; James McClean, Robbie Brady; Shane Long.
For more from Martin O'Neill, see O'Neill looking to lord it over his former tenant
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
In the head-to-head between the two teams, the Boys in Green have the slight advantage. The teams have met on 13 occasions to date with five wins to Ireland and three to the Danes.
In competitive games it is all square with three wins each and four draws (but the last Irish win came in 1979). Ireland have just the one win away from home. That was the game played 60 years ago in Copenhagen that Ireland won 2-0.
Last time the sides met in competitive action was in the qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup. There was 0-0 in Copenhagen followed by a 1-1 in Dublin.
Denmark have made the World Cup on four occasions – 1986, 1998, 2002 and 2010 – but have never been required to qualify via the play-off route.
They have been involved in two previous playoffs but both for the European Championship – losing 4-3 on aggregate to Sweden for Euro 2016 and beating Israel 8-0 on aggregate in 2000.
Ireland hold the record for most play-off appearances with seven. There have been four ties in Euro playoffs (progressing twice) and three ties in World Cup playoffs (beating Iran and losing to France and Belgium).
Denmark 3/4; Draw 9/4 ; Republic of Ireland 5/1.
Denmark 1 – 1 Republic of Ireland
Injured: Henrik Dalsgaard, Riza Durmisi.
Republic of Ireland
Injured: Richard Keogh, James McCarthy, Jon Walters, Sean Maguire, Seamus Coleman.
Suspended: David Meyler.
extratime.ie will be covering the FIFA World Cup playoff first leg between Denmark and the Republic of Ireland live from Copenhagen. Our reporter Macdara Ferris will be in the Parken Arena to take you through the match build-up, including both pre-match press conferences on Friday, and the game itself on Saturday evening.