De Futebol Ireland and Denmark tie Nil-Nil. Back to Dublin for round two

Ireland and Demark tied nil-nil the first leg of the World play in match. Now it’s back to Ireland for the second leg.

The Daily Mail:” In the beginning, they stomped and bounced in unison and they threw popcorn like unruly kids at the cinema. They chanted their dreams and their hopes and held up cards to form a giant message of encouragement for their team, and the Parken Stadium rocked and rolled on its foundations and they convinced themselves Denmark would be going to the World Cup

Then a couple of chances came and went. And they were good chances. They were chances Denmark should have taken. Bit by bit, the fervour slipped and the doubt invaded. The noise diminished. And when all was still equal 15 minutes into the second half, the first hints of impatience began to creep in and amid the chants and the yells, now there were groans.

And through it all, the Republic of Ireland worked and worked and worked. They knew Denmark would dominate possession. They knew their hosts were the better team. But manager Martin O’Neill had told his players not to die wondering what it would have been like to play in a World Cup and they ran for him as if those words were echoing in their minds.

They chased and they chased. They pushed away the thoughts of how they would be condemned afterwards for being defensive and dull. They threw themselves into tackles. James McClean, their best player, ran himself into the ground in pursuit of all manner of lost causes and their heroic defence repelled everything that was thrown at them.

The Irish did not worry too much about creative ambition. They were here to spoil. They were here to upset the odds and confound the critics, qualities that are bred in O’Neill’s bones.

They crossed their own threshold so infrequently that they must have got cabin fever.

As the game entered its last 10 minutes with the score still barren, all those cheers had turned to boos as the home fans rained down their displeasure on the Ireland team. How sweet those boos must have sounded to O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane and to the 3,000 Irish fans behind one of the goals.

Denmark coach Age Hareide had said before the match that he would be happy with a 0-0 draw but the urgency with which his team chased a late winner suggested he had not meant it.

And as the seconds ticked down and the pressure increased, the Herculean performances of centre-backs Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark grew ever more immense.

Under the final bombardment in injury-time, the Republic goalkeeper Darren Randolph made one last superb save, tipping a close-range header from sub Yussuf Poulsen over the bar. All that was left was the final whistle and when it went, O’Neill marched matter-of-factly over to Hareide, shook his hand and celebrated a job half done. This was a goalless draw that was a victory for cussedness and raw, unvanquished defiance but Hareide seemed unconcerned.

‘We’ll get more space in Dublin,’ he said, and he might be right. This much remains: at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday, the Irish must finish what they started.

Some of the criticism levelled at them is understandable. Some of it is unfair. The Irish were the heavy underdogs last night.

O’Neill has sparse resources to work with. This was not Jose Mourinho taking United to Anfield and parking the bus. United should have expected to win that game. Few expected the Republic to get anything out of this. ‘It was a sticky old night,’ O’Neill said afterwards. ‘I think with the players they possess, they are capable of scoring a goal in Dublin so we might have to score two. We have to show more creativity and I think we are capable of doing that.’

The consensus beforehand was that O’Neill would ask Glenn Whelan to man-mark Christian Eriksen and try to replicate Ireland’s happy habit of out- witting teams during their away matches in qualifying. That didn’t happen.

O’Neill has become adept at springing selection surprises and he conjured another by including Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda in his starting line-up on the right of midfield. There was no place for Whelan. It was bolder than many commentators had expected.

One Danish newspaper had calculated that with an estimated transfer value of £90million, Eriksen was worth more than the entire Republic team put together.

Keeping the Spurs midfielder in check was deemed crucial to the outcome, although, to add extra motivation, convenient rumours were circulating that Danish players were telling friends they were sure of victory.

Complacency is ill-advised when facing an O’Neill side. The Irish went unbeaten in their World Cup 2018 qualifying group games away from Dublin, drawing in Serbia and pulling off vital wins in Austria and Wales to force their way into the play-offs.

Some of the away supporters congregating outside The Dubliner pub on Stroget, the city’s narrow, winding main shopping street, had been resigned to the idea that Ireland would have to limit themselves to trying to stop Denmark rather than imposing themselves on the opposition.

There would be time for taking the game to the Danes in Dublin, they said. They knew how high the stakes were, too. They have not qualified for a World Cup since 2002. ‘Qualifying for the Euros was great,’ O’Neill said on the eve of the game, ‘but the World Cup is something else.’ The neutrals would like them there, of course. Their supporters, and the fans of Northern Ireland, helped to bring joy to Euro 2016. The World Cup would be poorer without them.

It did not take long for the Ireland goal to come under attack and in the 12th minute Randolph pulled off a superb double save.

Denmark full back Jens Stryger Larsen burst on to a long ball over the top and drilled his shot across Randolph. When Randolph parried it, Andreas Cornelius pounced on the rebound but Randolph scrambled across his goal to smother the shot on the line.

The Republic continued their policy of containment, forcing the Danes into speculative efforts. The danger to the Republic was always most likely to come from a piece of invention from Eriksen and after half an hour, he created a golden opportunity for his side.

The playmaker found space and unleashed a dipping drive that Randolph could only push into the path of Pione Sisto 10 yards out. Sisto had time to measure his shot but he sliced it just wide.

And then a couple of minutes before half-time, when the statisticians were marvelling at how few touches of the ball their lone forward Daryl Murphy had had, the Republic finally forged a chance when Cyrus Christie darted past Larsen into the box.

Suddenly he was one on one with Kasper Schmeichel and, from the tightest of angles, he tried to dink the ball over the Denmark keeper.

Schmeichel blocked the ball with his body and even though the rebound fell to Hendrick, his cross-shot was bundled out into touch.

The Republic did not manage much more going forward but this was not the night for that. This was the night to stay upright. This was the night to stay in the contest.

This was the night to stumble from the pitch utterly spent with that dream of playing at a World Cup still alive.