Here's all you need to know about Ireland's World Cup play-off opponents

There’s a lot more to Denmark than world-class Tottenham star Christian Eriksen.

Tottenham star Christian Eriksen is a key player for Denmark.
Tottenham star Christian Eriksen is a key player for Denmark.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

ON THE OFF chance you missed it, Ireland have been paired with Denmark in the World Cup play-offs.

The first leg takes place in Copenhagen Saturday, 11 November, before the return game at the Aviva Stadium three days later.

We’ve therefore decided to take a closer look at the team the Boys in Green will be facing next month, with a spot in Russia up for grabs…

How did Denmark do in qualifying?

Source: disparate HD/YouTube

Denmark finished second in Group E. The other teams who competed with them were Poland, Montenegro, Romania, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

Poland topped the group, five points ahead of the Danes, while third-place Montenegro finished four points behind them, as you can see below.


In total, the Danes picked up six wins, two draws and two losses (20 points), compared with Ireland’s five wins, four draws and one loss (19 points).

Somewhat ominously from an Irish perspective, their two losses, (3-2 away to Poland and 1-0 at home to Montenegro) came in their first three games, meaning they have been gaining momentum since then, responding to those setbacks by winning five of their next six matches.

Their two draws came against Romania, while the final one at home was offset by the fact that they were virtually certain to finish second before the match was played, rendering the result more or less irrelevant ultimately.

Unlike Ireland, they can be quite prolific on occasion — they scored four goals in three of their matches and overall registered 20 for in tandem with only eight against, in contrast with Ireland’s overall tally of 12 for and six against.

Their standout performance of the campaign was undoubtedly at home against Poland, the side that Ireland failed to beat in two attempts in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, triumphing 4-0 in Copenhagen.

That said, the outcome did not seem to unduly affect Adam Nawałka’s side, as they still qualified fairly comfortably from the group, winning eight out of a possible 10 matches.

What is their likely starting XI and how good are they?

Denmark: Denmark v Poland - World Cup 2018 Qualifier Denmark number 1 Kasper Schmeichel is a regular in the Premier League with Leicester. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Their starting XI is unlikely to be too different from the side that overcame Poland so impressively: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford), Simon Kjaer (Sevilla), Andreas Bjelland (Brentford), Jens Stryger Larsen (Udinese), William Kvist (Copenhagen), Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen), Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo), Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord).

That said, they have decent depth in their squad, with notable players including Lasse Schone (Ajax), Kasper Dolberg (Ajax), Nicklas Bendtner (Rosenborg), Lukas Lerager (Bordeaux), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Mike Jensen (Rosenborg) and Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig), many of whom featured extensively in their qualifying campaign while some will feel in with a decent shout of featuring in the starting XI against the Boys in Green.

On form, they are up there with the best sides in Europe, as indicated by their current Fifa ranking of 19th — seven places above Ireland.

Their star player is undoubtedly Tottenham’s Eriksen, who has finished second in the Premier League assists table for the past two seasons on the bounce, according to ESPN. He has also been in ominously good form lately, scoring four goals in his last five games in all competitions.

The 25-year-old was instrumental in the 4-0 victory over Poland, scoring one and setting up two, while he also registered the winner in their crucial victory over Montenegro which all but secured their place in the play-offs.

Yet the Danes are far from a one-man team. Werder Bremen may not be having the best of seasons (they are currently second from bottom in the Bundesliga), but Delaney is still highly thought of there.

The rest of their squad is a mixture of experienced campaigners playing at a relatively high level – Schmeichel, Kjær, Bendtner and Kvist have over 250 caps between them — and promising youngsters, including Christensen, Poulsen and Dolberg, with the latter compared by The Guardian to Marco van Basten and linked to a host of Europe’s top clubs of late, including Man United, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund, despite only turning 20 earlier this month.

In short, Denmark have better players on paper than Ireland, but then the same was also said of Wales and Austria.

Who is their manager?

What are they
really like?

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Like Martin O’Neill, 64-year-old Norwegian coach Age Hareide is a highly experienced manager. He has had stints in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish football, starting with Molde in 1985 and ultimately became part of an elite group of bosses to have won league titles in three different countries.

Hareide took over the Denmark job after the country’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016. It is his second spell as an international manager, coaching Norway between 2003 and 2008, during which time he failed to guide his native country to a major tournament.

The veteran coach’s playing career took place mainly in Norway. He started out at Hødd, a relatively minor Norwegian side (at least until they won the Norwegian Cup for the first time in 2012). In between two spells that lasted a combined total of 11 years at Molde, he spent three seasons in England, with Man City and subsequently Norwich, where he enjoyed moderate success. He also earned 50 caps for Norway between 1976 and 1986.

What’s their history in qualification/major tournaments like?

Source: outis888/YouTube

Like Ireland, Denmark’s record in qualifying for major tournaments tends to be somewhat sporadic, albeit the Danes have a superior history overall, particularly when it comes to the Euros. Their best moment on the international stage by far was Euro ’92, which they famously won after being given a wildcard entry (see more details in the video above). They also reached the semi-finals of the competition in 1984 and finished in fourth place in 1964.

Their more recent record at the Euros is less impressive. After qualifying for the second time in 1984, they would go on to reach the tournament on five more occasions on the bounce. Since then though, they have only qualified in one of the last three tournaments (2012), losing 4-3 on aggregate against the Swedish side, who would later come up against Ireland, in a play-off to reach Euro 2016.

They have so far reached the World Cup on only four occasions — 1986, 1998, 2002 and 2010. 1998, when they reached the quarter-finals, remains their best moment in the competition as it stands.

Key players from down through the years include Peter Schmeichel, the Laudrup brothers, Morten Olsen, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Henning Jensen and Allan Simonsen. In 2006, a public vote to determine their best-ever player was won comfortably by Michael Laudrup, who claimed 58% of the TV2 viewers’ preference.

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Paul Fennessy

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