Rather than feeling bullish about another Dublin cake-walk next month, Denmark manager Åge Hareide is convinced Mick McCarthy will have Ireland better prepared than his predecessor Martin O’Neill.
Ireland’s European Championship destiny now comes down to their eighth and final game of the campaign. And the sight of those white Danish shirts at Lansdowne Road will, despite Shane Duffy’s comments to the contrary, bristle with Ireland.
Most of the players on both teams will have vivid memories of their last meeting of consequence at the venue exactly two years ago.
Hareide was in charge for that 5-1 mauling in the World Cup play-off, not allowing his post-match press conference pass without mocking of old friend O’Neill for the liberal approach he applied with tactics, thereby facilitating the carnage Christian Eriksen inflicted upon the hosts.
The teams met again at Lansdowne last year, a dour scoreless draw from which Eriksen’s absence significantly reduced the entertainment value. Barring injury, Ireland’s tormentor from their last ‘cup final’ will be ready on November 18 for a game in which Denmark will need only to avoid defeat.
That means Ireland must overcome a Danish side now unbeaten in their last 23 competitive games. Croatia were the only victors in that run — the penalty shoot-out triumph at last year’s World Cup doesn’t count as a defeat in the official records.
Betting companies in Denmark are offering odds of 9/1 that they fail to claim one of the berths on offer in Group D into the 2020 finals. Switzerland Vladimir Petkovic has forecast the Danes to qualify, as has Hareide about the Swiss.
The peddlers of doom McCarthy speaks of operate far beyond these shores. Another portent against his side is that Ireland have failed to beat a higher-seeded nation at home since the Euro play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina all of four years ago.
All the indicators aside, the wily Hareide isn’t being presumptuous. Asked was he confident of beating Ireland again, he offered a swift response.
“No,” he said.
Ireland are a much stronger team in this campaign. They are very difficult to break down. I was just surprised how open the team were in the World Cup play-off. This is a different team under a different manager. It will not be an easy game.
The sides come into it, though, in contrasting form. While Ireland were getting stretched on a soggy pitch by Switzerland on Tuesday, Hareide was experimenting in a friendly against Luxembourg.
Saturday’s late win over the Swiss had taken its toll on some players but the likes of Eriksen and hero of the hour, Kasper Schmeichel, insisted on sticking around. Kasper Dolberg made the most of being promoted from the bench by scoring twice in a 4-0 stroll.
There was also a much-awaited debut for Joachim Andersen, the defender Lyon splashed out a club-record €25m on in the summer. Not all is rosy, however. Hareide will replaced by Kasper Hjulmand once Denmark’s involvement in the Euros ends. Unlike the FAI’s succession plan, the incumbent isn’t onside with the arrangement, criticising the late announcement as disrespectful.
The friction between Hareide and the Danish FA’s sporting director Peter Møller is a major talking point around the camp. His decision to decline an offer to wear a Danish scarf amid the celebrations on Saturday only heightened the sense of a divide brewing.
Presuming the changeover goes ahead, a move to manage his native Norway for the World Cup qualifying campaign is probable for Hareide. There’s unfinished business needing attending to in the meantime and that’s not what Ireland need right now.