Belfast Telegraph

Uefa may intervene in Danes dispute: O'Neill


By Daniel McDonnell

The main talking point in Wales on the eve of the Nations League kick-off is not the Republic of Ireland - it's Denmark.

Martin O'Neill has dealt with enough questions about the Danes over the past 11 months, but this is slightly different.

He spent the opening part of his press conference at the Cardiff City Stadium dealing with local queries built around the implications of Wales taking on a mishmash of semi-pros, amateurs and Futsal players in Aarhus on Sunday.

There is an Irish angle here too, of course. O'Neill's men would be inconvenienced by Wales receiving a handy three points, with the manager agreeing that it would damage the integrity of the new competition if a row over image rights led to a one-sided demolition.

And he did agree with the suggestion that Uefa should be keeping an eye on things if there is no sign of a resolution between the Danish association and their players as the weekend draws closer.

"I can't look into the future, but I think it would probably become a discussion point if Denmark do not field their strongest side," said O'Neill, when the subject of Uefa intervention was raised.

Of course, the FAI do have a direct line to the top echelons of Uefa with CEO John Delaney now a member of the executive committee.

We do not know if O'Neill has spoken to Delaney about the situation. They could be forgiven for having other things on their mind.

That's because the Republic need to show signs of life in Cardiff tonight to justify the decision to continue their working relationship into a third qualifying campaign.

Circumstances have complicated the build-up for O'Neill. The Republic might have won here on their last visit, but they are the clear underdogs for the rematch.

If the Wales players perform to their maximum, they should deliver a winning start for Ryan Giggs.

That is the simple reality when they can call on Gareth Bale, whose loss was a major boost to the Republic ahead of last October's backs-to-the-wall victory. Joe Allen ran the show for the opening quarter of the match before he was struck down.

The glass-half-full angle is that the Republic have Seamus Coleman back, and that is a major boost, yet there was little wrong with the defensive application on that occasion - although O'Neill did repeat his view that his side would have qualified for Russia were it not for his leg break in the previous encounter with their Celtic neighbours. In reality, the problems are further up the park.

O'Neill has spoken of trying to improve patterns of midfield play and attacking movement, but it's fair to say that he would have envisaged having a stronger hand for this test.

Declan Rice, Robbie Brady and James McClean would all be starting if they were available; James McCarthy, Harry Arter and Shane Long would likely figure as well.

There will have to be some understanding if this turns out to be a struggle, yet the reality is that O'Neill requires a positive run to try and restore some of the credit that was lost in that World Cup play-off drubbing by the Danes.

A negative result would create real pressure around next month's Dublin double header with the Welsh and Denmark.

There are seeding implications for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw proper too, and these results are important to ensure that the Republic start the regular campaign safe in the knowledge that they will have a second crack at making the Finals through a play-off if they struggle through the traditional route.

O'Neill ruminated on that point, while acknowledging that he is essentially in a position where he will have to field players that wouldn't otherwise have entered his thinking.

McClean's absence will be felt, and it's possible that he will miss the October matches as well if the timelines coming out of Stoke are correct - although you suspect the Derryman will fight through injury to beat them.

With confidence growing that Rice might be back in the equation, and Robbie Brady and James McCarthy certainly expected back in the fold, the Republic might be in a better place by then.

Harry Arter's absence will have drifted from the agenda if they all return and he was scarcely mentioned yesterday, with O'Neill standing by Keane again and Coleman talking in jocular enough terms about the assistant manager's demanding approach.

"If you make a mistake he'll tell you," he said. "As pro footballers you have to deal with it."

That said, it's inevitable that Arter will be raised in the post-mortem if the visitors come away with null points.

But this exercise is about more than the results - although that is the main currency that the FAI are interested in - as there needs to be evidence of energy and ideas. Limping through this autumn will test patience and dent public confidence.

As the five year anniversary of their appointment approaches, O'Neill and Keane must take a decent stab at turning water into wine. Otherwise, the whines will grow.

Belfast Telegraph


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