Republic of Ireland V Denmark: The winner takes it all

Martin O’Neill has spoken in the past of how he likes the all or nothing games, of how knowing that only a victory will do helps “clear the mind.”

Technically speaking, tonight’s game against Denmark isn’t one of those, since the muddying effect of a scoreless draw would see the drama extend beyond the regulation 90 minutes and perhaps even all the way through extra-time to a penalty shoot-out.

But in every really meaningful respect, this decisive World Cup play-off game feels every bit as clear-cut and black and white as those death or glory occasions in Lille and Cardiff, nights on which the Irish delivered when nothing less than victory would do. 

As big as, and bigger too, given the prize on offer.

Certainly, Martin O’Neill’s own head is crystal clear in this regard.

“We’re taking it now that we have to win the game at the Aviva,” he says. 

“The consequence of winning the game is you go to the World Cup. The consequence of being beaten or a score draw is you’re out.”

Simple as, but only after 11 games gone on what has been a rocky road to Russia thus far. 

But, thanks to a couple of sensational results and a commendable second-place finish in a hugely challenging group, Ireland have finally arrived at this point of definition.

”It’s been a long campaign, a gruelling campaign,” O’Neill reflects.

“We started way back in Serbia and drew 2-2. I mentioned immediately after that game that any side that finished in front of Serbia would win the group and so it proved. 

“We have been fighting the whole way through, against Austria, against Wales, who made the semi-finals of the Euros. We have been fourth seeds, and even Georgia, the side that was supposed to finish last, were by far the strongest of any of the sixth-seeded groups in the competition.

“So it’s been gruelling and tough, really tough. Some players maybe in certain matches haven’t played as strongly as they have in others but that’s part of the whole game. 

“This is where we’ve arrived, this is where we’re at now, and it will need big performances tonight in the Aviva. 

“And the likes of Robbie (Brady), Jeff (Hendrick), I think all those boys who forged great reputations in the Euros know that. But they should take something from that. While every minute has not been glorious for them, they are still capable of doing it.”

O’Neill might only be stating the obvious when he says his side will need to be more creative and expansive against Denmark tonight than they were in Copenhagen. 

He also figures that, with the away goal advantage now only on offer to the Danes, it will probably require more than one goal from his team to secure qualification, on the face of it a tall order for a side which has only managed four at home in the course of the whole qualifying campaign.

And only once scored twice — against Moldova — at the Aviva.

“I think we have to score a couple of goals,” he says. “That is the case. I think holding Denmark out for two matches is going to be very difficult. Our mindset is that we want to create and then we better score.You have to treat the game on its own merits. You can’t look at the past now and say, ‘well we didn’t do this, and we didn’t do that’. It would be lovely to have a prolific goalscorer that you can turn to.

“But if you don’t have that you have to find other ways, and that’s what we’ve had to do. Really top quality Republic of Ireland sides have not been able to score goals. 

“You have Robbie Keane out on his own and the next person to him is someone who might have forced a corner or something like that! Seriously, that is the case.

“There have been great players who have played for the Republic of Ireland in their history and they have never been prolific.

“We have to find the net and we think we’re capable of doing it. It won’t be easy and it’s a tough match for us, a really tough game. 

“It’s as simple as that. We find everything tough — it’s the nature of us. We don’t have all the skills that maybe other nations have. We have to find it in a different manner. 

“So far, the lads have come up big in matches. Tonight is a massive game and we’re hoping to do it again.”

Asked to comment on Danish midfielder Thomas Delaney’s colourful observation that playing Ireland is like trying to open a tin of baked beans with your bare hands, O’Neill replies: ‘We have talent in our side. We know we’ve got to try and open the Danes up in some aspect but we’ll have to be very careful of them on the counter. We have to take our chances, and we will create some. I think the onus is always on the home team to try and break the other side down and score some goals and that will be the same for us tonight. The players will be trying to find some space but hopefully we have learned one or two things from the other night.”

One thing his team won’t lack is a quality which has stood to them repeatedly during O’Neill’s time in charge.

“I think the players have fantastic spirit,” he says.

“I think it’s important to have that. The side is made up of certain components and this is a very strong element of it. 

“It shouldn’t be everything in our side because eventually, as well as spirit, we need to be able to try and play as well too.

“The players have gained a great deal from previous big games, like the art of defending strongly when we go in front and need to hold out. We have also fought back in matches when we’ve been behind. Jon Walters scored a big goal here against Austria. They have been terrific experiences but this boils down to one game.”

And he ends as he began: “We have to find a way to win the match.”


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