Belfast Telegraph

New-look Irish must stand tall to topple the classy Danes

Denmark v Rep of Ireland, Euro 2020 Qualifying Group D, Telia Parken, Tonight, 7.45pm

Battle ready: James McClean and Republic boss Mick McCarthy at training yesterday
Battle ready: James McClean and Republic boss Mick McCarthy at training yesterday
Shane Duffy

By Daniel McDonnell

What can we say about another meeting between the Republic of Ireland and Denmark?

"It's nothing against your question but I just don't see the big deal about this game," said Seamus Coleman, politely, as he fielded another query related to the recent history between these sides.

Certainly, there's been a familiarity about the build-up to the fifth showdown in the space of 19 months.

The theme of disparaging Danish comments about the Irish style of play has hung over those fixtures.

It's clear that they expect more of the same.

What the locals may not appreciate is that a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the last showdown in Aarhus at the tail end of last year.

Since then, the FAI have changed manager, sidelined their CEO turned Executive Vice-President, shed a couple of board members and - in the latest developments - lost a substantial number of e-mails.

What they are still struggling to do is erase the memory of the 5-1 defeat to the Danes that ended World Cup hopes and effectively sealed Martin O'Neill's fate.

The only way to move beyond it is to properly inflict pain on Age Hareide's team by securing a result that hurts them.

Put simply, the race to the finals is a three-way battle for two spots between top-seeded Switzerland, Denmark and the Republic.

The rankings would suggest that Denmark are the opponent that the Irish have the best prospects of overtaking.

This is a pivotal encounter, but there is a sense that fatigue about the repeated meetings has chipped away at the interest levels. Local build-up has been overshadowed by the fuss around Christian Eriksen, and the Danish press officer had to remind the audience to ask questions about the match yesterday.

What the Republic need to do is add a new twist to this rivalry.

This game will test the quality of the preparations over the past three weeks.

Mick McCarthy wasn't giving much away about the game plan, yet he has made it fairly clear that the approach in the win over Georgia in March will be the template.

He knew his side on Monday, and the players will be aware from the approach in training. Glenn Whelan - who hasn't started a game against the Danes - will be in a defensive midfield role supported by Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick.

Shutting down Eriksen will be a major part of their brief, with his ability to drop deep and get on the ball if things aren't going his way making it more than a one-player job.

McCarthy also cited the importance of Thomas Delaney, stressing that he's often the man to get the Danes moving.

James McClean and Robbie Brady are likely to be tasked with wide roles, although if there is to be a surprise then the right side is the most likely avenue for it as the fit-again Callum O'Dowda is a rival for Brady.

David McGoldrick's hold-up play should allow him to take central responsibility, and his assurance was central to the Georgia performance.

Denmark have proved a sturdy opponent under Hareide and Shane Duffy's early header in the ill-fated play-off is the only time that the Republic managed to breach their defence.

Still, they showed some vulnerability in falling three behind to Switzerland in March before rescuing a point with a thrilling comeback in the final six minutes.

"They didn't deserve to be 3-0 down. One of the goals was a handball," said McCarthy.

"Seamus (Coleman) has spoken about them being well set-up and hard to break down with the mentality they have.

"Can I take heart from the first 84 minutes? No, because I felt they played well, they attacked and played like the home team, and to get three goals back and get a draw... they will be buzzing, they will be flying."

That game did prove they are fallible, though.

It suggest that the Republic can be rewarded for positivity.

Nevertheless, it's safe to say that the success of the mission will likely be determined by the quality of the defending.

Management appear to have settled on the Duffy and Richard Keogh partnership, a pairing that was thrown together during Euro 2016 for the big win in Lille.

They were reunited for March and dovetail well as a partnership. Keogh spoke earlier this week about Duffy's prowess.

"Ridiculous in the air, the best I've ever seen," said the Derby County player.

"I'm probably a little bit better on the ball.

"We cover ourselves well, and try and help each other out as much as possible because it's a partnership."

The Republic need that understanding to exist around the park, and to live up to their reputation of being well drilled and well organised.

By 9.30pm tonight, we will have a proper idea of what way the McCarthy era is going to play out.

Fixtures

Tonight: Denmark v Republic of Ireland (7.45pm); Georgia v Gibraltar (5pm)

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