James McClean’s winner in Cardiff has reinvigorated the Republic of Ireland who are now one play-off game tie from qualifying for their first World Cup since 2002.
Fingers were crossed in hoping for the best possible draw in Zurich today and thankfully lady luck was smiling down on the Boys in Green as they avoided big guns Croatia and Italy.
Instead, Martin O’Neill’s men will face Denmark with the first leg taking place in Copenhagen and the return game back at what should be a boisterous Aviva Stadium.
The two legs take place on November 11 and 14 but what can Ireland expect to face against the Danes?
There are some names that will be well known to Irish supporters including Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, captain Simon Kjaer, Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen and striker Nicklas Bendtner who play for Rosenborg when they saw off Dundalk in the Champions League qualifiers.
Highly-rated Ajax youngster Kasper Dolberg who played in their Europa League final defeat to Manchester United could also represent a significant danger.
However, it is in midfield where the Danish are particularly strong with William Kvist, Thomas Delaney and Ajax’s Lasse Schone all representing good options but the man who stands head and shoulders above everyone else as the most obvious threat is Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Eriksen has been a fundamental part of Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side and is rated as one of the best players in the Premier League. Eriksen has the creativity and free kick ability to unlock most defences.
While O Neill may not admit it publicly, he will be making extra plans to stop Eriksen which will most likely go a long way to deciding the contest. That task could fall to David Meyler.
Denmark play in either a 4-2-3-1 formation as their starting line-up in the recent 1-1 draw against Romania which secured them qualification showed us or a more attacking 4-3-3 which yielded them four goals away to Armenia.
Manager Age Hareide likes the keep the same strong spine of the team from goalkeeper to midfield (Schmeichel, Kjaer, Kvist, Delaney, Eriksen) that has served him so well in qualifying but he tends to chop and change the more forward players at times.
Andreas Cornelius, Pione Sisto, Yusuff Poulsen, Nicolai Jorgensen, Bendtner and Dolberg will all be competing for a place in Denmark’s attack. This area might be more difficult for O’Neill to predict.
Denmark finished second in Group E behind Poland with a total of 20 points – six wins, two draws and two losses. It was not the most challenging group with the likes of Montenegro, Romania, Armenia and Kazakhstan in there but that is still an impressive points tally.
However, the Danes did impressively hammer Poland 4-0 in September which shows Ireland must be wary of the challenge they face.
Denmark will also know that O’Neill’s men will represent formidable opposition in terms of their physicality, intensity, work rate and never-say-die attitude.
It is a good draw for Ireland but expect it to be very much a 50/50 encounter that will go right down to the wire.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena