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Randolph to the rescue and more talking points from Denmark

It’s all to play for as Ireland head back to Dublin for a crunch showdown with Denmark on Tuesday.

– Paul Dollery reports from Parken Stadium, Copenhagen

O’Dowda’s surprise inclusion

Christian Eriksen and Callum O’Dowda Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Having described Ireland as “easy to read” during his pre-match press conference, Denmark manager Age Hareide would almost certainly have been surprised to learn of the inclusion of Callum O’Dowda in the Ireland starting line-up.

The 22-year-old winger was rewarded for his encouraging recent form for Bristol City in the Championship by being handed just his second competitive start, and his eighth senior international cap overall, by Ireland boss Martin O’Neill.

O’Dowda didn’t make a major impact over the course of the 90 minutes but his contribution was certainly satisfactory for a man who’s still a newcomer at this level. He worked hard to track back and offer an extra body in defence. Had a half-chance late in the first half when set up on the edge of the box by James McClean but was unable to make anything of it.

With David Meyler returning from suspension for Tuesday’s second leg in Dublin, O’Dowda may be sacrificed with Robbie Brady likely to return to a wide berth. However, the English-born winger can still be considered one for the future.

Randolph to the rescue

Darren Randolph with kit man Dick Redmond Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A string of superb saves from Darren Randolph, particularly to keep out Yussuf Poulsen’s 90th minute effort, were crucial as Copenhagen joined Vienna and Cardiff on the list of destinations where Ireland have kept clean sheets in this campaign.

For a split-second, Poulsen looked set to win it for Denmark as he rose high to head goalwards. However, Randolph superbly tipped the ball over the crossbar. It certainly wasn’t the only vital save the Middlesbrough goalkeeper made at the Parken Stadium.

He produced a brilliant double save early on after the Danes made what turned out to be a rare venture beyond Ireland’s rearguard. Later he pushed away a Christian Eriksen strike from distance, although he would have been relieved to see Pione Sisto’s follow up drift wide.

If Ireland manage to progress to next summer’s World Cup in Russia, they’ll reflect on a few decisive interventions from Randolph in tonight’s first leg.

Eriksen empty-handed

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Christian Eriksen after the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Christian Eriksen, Denmark’s talisman, said before this game that he wasn’t too bothered about the prospect of being man-marked. Ireland didn’t stick a player to the Tottenham Hotspur star to nullify his influence, but Martin O’Neill will be content with the manner in which they policed the 25-year-old attacking midfielder.

Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady all worked tirelessly to crowd the middle of the pitch. It often made for a scrappy contest but from Ireland’s perspective it served its purpose as space for Eriksen to excel was limited.

As well as bringing a good save from Darren Randolph in the first half, Eriksen saw plenty of the ball and always looked dangerous. He was still searching for a crack in the Ireland defence when the stadium announcer confirmed him as man of the match in the closing stages.

Having emerged unscathed from the threat of his quality, particularly given that he had scored eight goals in his last eight appearances for Denmark, the Boys in Green will be satisfied with how they minimised his influence. However, there’s still at least 90 minutes remaining for Eriksen to end Ireland’s World Cup hopes.

Danes not so daunting but Ireland’s approach must change

Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tonight’s game didn’t make for an attractive spectacle but that’s exactly how Martin O’Neill wanted it. If there’s frustration among Ireland supporters, it may be more appropriately directed at the Ireland manager for his approach instead of at his players, who were relentless in implementing a gameplan which frustrated the hosts.

When Ireland did have opportunities to break, a reluctance to commit bodies forward meant that few questions were asked of the Danish defence. Another scoreless draw in Dublin on Tuesday will only be good enough for a penalty shootout, and one Danish goal will require Ireland to score two, so O’Neill’s side may have to throw off the shackles that held their admittedly impressive defensive effort together tonight.

Among the positives for Ireland are that the 10 players who brought yellow cards into this game all avoided additional bookings, so they’ll be available for the second leg. David Meyler will also be back in contention after missing out this evening through suspension.

As expected, Denmark dominated possession and kept the ball for 70% of the game. They’re undoubtedly a side to be respected, with Thomas Delaney, Christian Eriksen and Pione Sisto all particularly dangerous. But backed by what’s likely to be a raucous Dublin crowd in their bid to get the country back to the World Cup for the first time since 2002, Ireland will feel that this is a side they’re capable of toppling.

Some adjustments will be necessary, however, and the Danes still believe. According to their manager Age Hareide in his post-match press conference, a repeat of tonight’s performance will be good enough to get his side over the line at the Aviva Stadium.

Roll on Tuesday…

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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