Age Hareide must have made for a challenging tenant.
Martin O’Neill would know given he once rented a house to his old Norwich City team-mate, and the Danish manager gave the impression last night of a man who would accept your right to choose a certain wallpaper with one breath before declaring his utter distaste for it with the next.
It was O’Neill’s choice of tactics with which the Norwegian took some issue last night.
It started with stats highlighting Denmark’s 587 passes and an 85% completion rate in Copenhagen as against Ireland’s 206, of which only three in five found a green shirt.
Never mind your modern minimalism, it screamed, look at our grand designs.
The first leg may suggest that Denmark could do with going back to the drawing board themselves, but Hareide certainly can’t see Ireland bringing any more adventurous designs to the Aviva Stadium.
“No, if you look at the statistics from the qualification, nothing seems to go in that direction. They play better away from home and score more goals away from home. I saw the game they played (at home to) Serbia. They lost 1-0.
“At home against Wales they drew 0-0. They won in Wales 1-0 and at the beginning of the qualification they drew in Serbia 2-2. They were the key matches in qualification and I think they will play the same way.
“I don’t expect (Ireland) to go higher than they did in Copenhagen. They just want us to make a mistake. That’s okay but I haven’t got the patience to play like that. We will just try to attack Ireland, score a goal, and take it from there.”
It isn’t that he doesn’t respect O’Neill.
Hareide noted how his Celtic teams played with more verve in a league where their opponents were beneath them and how he has cut his cloth to measure with a Republic side that invariably faces teams of superior footballing quality.
“He is a good manager and he wants to win. So do I.”
Not so much wants as expects. The last major football game played in the Aviva was the FAI Cup final which Cork City won after a shootout and John Caulfield’s men explained afterwards that they had practised their penalties regularly from pre-season onwards.
As for the Danes?
“Nothing,” said Hareide.
For reasons of superstition or confidence? “Both, superstitious and we don’t need them.”
One goal, he said, will be enough. Even if Ireland score. There was no preening as he spoke but the veneer of arrogance poked through as he spoke of the fantastic opportunity this represented given they don’t even need a win to reach Russia.
If Ireland have a trump card this evening, then they believe that to be their spirit. David Meyler proclaimed as much earlier yesterday when he claimed Denmark don’t have the “character and the heart and the desire that we have”.
The response was predictable. Hareide spoke about how his players had shown those same qualities — and no little skill besides — in making careers for themselves all over Europe.
Andreas Bjelland was even more succinct in dismissing Meyler’s theory. “Right now we are talking about a game that takes us to a World Cup so of course we have to have fight and mentality,” said the Brentford defender.
“Sure, we can fight with them if they want to fight, we will take that up, but that’s not our game-plan. We want to get the ball down, play it on the floor, move them around and then hopefully we score.”
Easier said than done, clearly.
Hareide suggested that his side could further test Ireland if they can increase the speed of their passes through midfield, take fewer touches and get more men forward, but so much of the focus will again orbit around Christian Eriksen who was well contained on Saturday.
“We need more from everyone, it’s not only Christian’s responsibility. That is our main goal, to get a little bit more from everyone. If you play a team that’s very good at defending … it’s always easier to stop people from playing than creating.
“That is why these creative players are more and more important in football, to create space and take on people. That’s why they are so valuable to a team. But it can be more difficult if teams lock it down. That’s natural, there’s nothing wrong with that.
“But we have to try and find space and get Christian on the ball.”
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