Ireland's James McClean and Thomas Delaney of Denmark. James Crombie/INPHO
all to play for

Ireland's World Cup play-off on a knife edge after draw away to Denmark

Martin O’Neill’s men held the home side to a 0-0 stalemate at Parken Stadium tonight.

Denmark 0
Ireland 0

- Ben Blake reports from Parken Stadium, Copenhagen

IT’S AS YOU were then, as Liam Gallagher might say.

No away goals, but Ireland take a 0-0 draw back to Dublin for the second leg of their World Cup play-off with Denmark on Tuesday after neither side could break the deadlock tonight.

The Danes looked dangerous in the first half at Parken Stadium but the visitors weathered the storm to keep a clean sheet, with Darren Randolph the star performer. Martin O’Neill will also be pleased there were no yellow cards over the 90 minutes, so suspensions have been avoided for the return tie in three days’ time.

Hull City’s David Meyler had proved himself as a valuable asset at the base of midfield in the final two group matches, but the stand-in captain picked up a booking in the final moments of the win over Wales.

That yellow card resulted in a one-match ban, which he serves tonight. With James McCarthy unavailable through injury, Glenn Whelan looked the obvious candidate to come in.

However, O’Neill took the bold decision to include Bristol City winger Callum O’Dowda — one of the squad’s most in-form players — on the right hand-side of an attacking three behind a lone striker.

The man tasked with that job once again was Daryl Murphy, who bagged two goals against Moldova last month before retaining his place in the crucial victory in Cardiff.

The Ireland team huddle Ireland huddle before kick-off. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Denmark were seen by many as the most favourable of the four possible seeded play-off opponents, but, as they showed in the first half, they can be dangerous if allowed to play.

Much of the pre-match talk centred around the attacking threat of Christian Eriksen, and Cyrus Christie did well to prevent the Tottenham schemer from a shooting opportunity early on.

But the home side were to have the lion’s share of chances during the first 45 minutes. Randolph showed why he is Ireland’s number one on the 12th minute. A superb diagonal ball from captain Simon Kjaer found full-back Jens Stryger Larsen over the head of Cyrus Christie with O’Dowda caught out.

Controlling well, his volley was kept out by Randolph, who got back to his feet to brilliantly save from Andreas Cornelius’ follow-up.

The opening period was all Denmark and Eriksen had a pop-shot from distance on 22 minutes, which was collected by the Middlesbrough stopper.

James McClean and Robbie Brady then attempted to string a couple of passes together in the Danish half, and the former won a free-kick. Brady’s delivery was cleared at the first chance, however.

Age Hareide’s side had a golden opportunity to take a deserved lead just after the 30-minute mark. Ciaran Clark’s clearance went straight to Eriksen, who drove into the space and drilled a dipping strike at Randolph.

He parried away, but only as far as Pione Sisto and the Celta Vigo winger — currently top of the La Liga assist charts — managed to fluff his lines with the goal at his mercy.

O’Dowda, along with Hendrick, had been extremely quiet when his attempt from the edge of the box was blocked after McClean’s persistence down the right.

Just before half-time, Ireland created their best opening of the game up to the point. Christie went past Larsen and cut in along the end-line before trying to dink the ball over Kasper Schmeichel.

The Leicester City keeper made himself big to block, and Hendrick’s subsequent effort was deflected behind for a corner, which came to nothing.

Denmark v Republic of Ireland - FIFA World Cup - Qualifying Play-off - First Leg - Parken Stadium Sisto misses the target. Niall Carson Niall Carson

There was a noticeable decrease in the tempo of the game after the interval, meaning the Irish players were allowed more time and space in possession. Disappointingly, however, they were happy to punt the ball straight back to Denmark time after time.

Set pieces looked the visitors’ most likely opportunity to score, and when a free kick from Brady was floated into the box, it fell just behind Clark but he couldn’t make a sufficient connection.

Hareide introduced Yussuf Poulsen for Cornelius and the RB Leipzig man pulled a shot a few yards wide of the post shortly after his introduction. Former Arsenal striker Niclas Bendtner, these days with Rosenborg, was also thrown on.

Martin O’Neill, meanwhile, withdrew Murphy, who ran himself ragged without earning any reward, for Shane Long, in order to add fresh legs.

Long, without a goal for club or country since February, saw a left-footed shot come off the back of a Danish defender but, bizarrely, a goal kick was given.

Both teams had headed chances to score in the closing minutes, as Schmeichel saved from Duffy before Poulsen’s effort was kept out by the excellent Randolph. And the Danes lay siege on Ireland’s goal as the final seconds ticked down but the Wicklow keeper commanded his area superbly.

IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Ciaran Clark (c), Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward; Harry Arter (Glenn Whelan 87), Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane 90), Callum O’Dowda, Robbie Brady, James McClean; Daryl Murphy (Shane Long 74).

DENMARK: Kasper Schmeichel; Peter Ankersen, Simon Kjaer, Andreas Bjelland, Jens Stryger Larsen; William Kvist, Thomas Delaney, Christian Eriksen; Andreas Cornelius (Yussuf Poulsen 64), Nicolai Jorgensen, Pione Sisto (Niclas Bendtner 73).

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