Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
James Crombie/INPHO Ireland drew 0-0 in their first leg against Denmark.
# looking ahead
Do you agree with our Ireland starting XI to face Denmark?
Martin O’Neill has some difficult calls to make ahead of Tuesday night’s World Cup play-off at the Aviva.

Goalkeeper and defence

THIS IS UNLIKELY to change at all from the side that played in the first leg.

All of Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, Stephen Ward, Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy have had excellent campaigns.

In the group stages, Ireland conceded just six goals in 10 games — of all the teams in the Uefa qualifiers, only Croatia, England, Spain, Germany and Portugal had superior defensive records.

The 0-0 draw in Copenhagen further served to underline how impressive Ireland are at the back, with Duffy particularly commanding and adept at sensing danger as the Boys in Green emerged with a creditable scoreless draw.

Going with the same backline again is the one Ireland selection decision that could be legitimately described as a no-brainer.


It will be interesting to see who O’Neill goes for here. Glenn Whelan has seemingly dropped further down the pecking order, with the Aston Villa man only coming on in the 87th minute of the first leg.

David Meyler will be expected to start on his return from suspension, so O’Neill will likely have to pick between Harry Arter and Jeff Hendrick to play alongside him.

Hendrick didn’t look 100% fit during the first leg, while Arter was substituted with cramp late on, so at least one of those players may possibly be sacrificed. Both are fierce tacklers and determined runners, but Hendrick is probably slightly better on the ball, so could be given the nod on that basis.

Hendrick could also be accommodated in a more advanced position, however.


There are a couple of question marks here.

Will he go with Shane Long or Daryl Murphy up front?

Will Wes Hoolahan be given the nod in attack, and if so, who will he replace?

Bringing Hoolahan in would almost certainly mean dropping O’Dowda and one of Hendrick or Arter, unless he decides against re-introducing Meyler into the starting XI. Nevertheless, the Hull star’s excellent performance against Wales last month surely means he has done enough to warrant a starting spot. The 22-year-old Bristol City player, on the other hand, didn’t have much of an impact in the first leg, so is expected to make way.

Out wide, it seems almost certain that both James McClean and Robbie Brady will retain their places.

On the option of starting Hoolahan, O’Neill may think back to the Serbia game. The Norwich star has started just four games in total during this qualifying campaign and has been substituted in each match. At 35, O’Neill seems to believe Hoolahan can no longer last the full 90 minutes in a match. The last fixture he started, the 1-0 loss to Serbia, saw him begin brightly but fade to a degree along with his team-mates in the second half. After his substitution on 62 minutes, Ireland struggled for creativity and failed to open Serbia up, even when they were reduced to 10 men.

So O’Neill may look at Tuesday’s match and figure Hoolahan is best kept in reserve, particularly given the possibility that the match could go to extra time. This strategy worked well in the game against Italy at the Euros, where he created Robbie Brady’s famous winner, though was not as successful in his only substitute appearance of the campaign so far — the home fixture against Austria, where the Dubliner struggled to have much impact after being introduced on 71 minutes.

Would Ireland prefer to have Hoolahan play the first 60 minutes when the game is at its most frantic, or would it be better to bring him on to unlock a tiring defence with the game likely to be more open than at the start of the match?

Of course, both moves are a risk. It would likely be futile bringing Hoolahan on in the second half if Ireland are 3-0 down by then. That said, O’Neill may still prefer to risk playing a tight, disciplined controlled opening hour, before potentially introducing his most creative player ideally with the game still there to be won.

It has now been well over a year since Shane Long last scored for Ireland, while his last goal for Southampton came in February.

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Yet Long was still missed on Saturday. Daryl Murphy, for all his qualities, lacked the Tipperary native’s energy and ability to get in behind defenders, with Ireland struggling to gain any attacking momentum as a result.

Moreover, some of the criticism Long gets for his lack of goals is unfair. How many times has he had to perform the kind of thankless lone front man role that Murphy undertook at the weekend, where goalscoring chances are scarce and scraps are all he has to work off? The stats (Long has failed to score in his last 29 appearances for club and country) may look awful, but they fail to give this kind of context to certain performances.

Starting Hoolahan and Long would be the type of move that would please plenty of fans, though with the tie still in the balance, O’Neill may prefer to go with more of an out-and-out target man in Murphy, coupled with a more athletic and defence-oriented midfielder in the 10 role, namely Hendrick.

Our starting XI: Randolph; Christie, Ward, Duffy, Clark; Meyler, Hendrick; McClean, Brady, Hoolahan; Long.


Predicted starting XI: Randolph; Christie, Ward, Duffy, Clark; Meyler, Arter; McClean, Brady, Hendrick; Long.


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