Peter Schmeichel all but scoffs when asked how the current Ireland and Denmark squads compare to his day when the teams drew twice in the qualifying rounds for the 1994 World Cup.
“They don’t,” he chuckled.
He has a point. Denmark had come from nowhere to win the European Championship in Sweden in 1992. Schmeichel aside, they could call on the likes of Brian
Laudrup, John Jensen, Kim Vilfort, and Lars Elstrup.
Jack Charlton had no need to cast envious glances either night. Not with Denis Irwin, Kevin Moran, Roy Keane, Andy Townsend, John Aldridge and others offering no little class and top-flight experience.
Other changes have been noted, too.
“I’m looking at the Irish team now and I am seeing 5’ 5” and 5’ 6”. What? And I am thinking Tony Cascarino, Niall Quinn. The team that Jack built was a strange team ‘cos ... half of them weren’t even Irish, you know? They knew somebody who was Irish. But it’s not like that anymore.”
That said, Schmeichel still sees much that is familiar in both camps. Ireland have always been more about the size of the fight in the dog and Denmark have dispensed with a patient passing game under manager Age Hareide for a more direct and physical approach.
Both sides were more than content to be paired with the other for this World Cup play-off, buoyed by the lack of stardust sprinkled through the opposing ranks and a tradition of qualifying for major events that is as much miss as it is hit.
“We’re very, very similar. Okay, we talk about Christian Eriksen but he’s the exception to the rule here. He’s a big, world-class star, but the players that we have are not from the Manchester Uniteds, Citys, Liverpools of this world.
“So the vulnerability of playing the big games goes with both teams. The occasion can become really big. So you have players from Wolverhampton, from Derby ... players from the Championship who aren’t used to it.” Schmeichel didn’t think Ireland could get the win they needed in Cardiff last month but the fact they did was a reminder for him of the traditional grit and physicality which Irish sides have always been imbued with and which continue to serve them well.
“They have incredible mental strength. When you have to go to Cardiff and you must win to stay in the game and you play the best Wales team at getting results that I can remember and you go and win, that’s impressive.
“This is my worry, that some of the Danish players that don’t know England don’t know how good the Championship is. There are a lot of Championship players that play in the Ireland team and [the Danes] could go out there thinking ‘they only play in the second tier of English football’.”
He’s right about the make-up of Martin O’Neill’s squad. Fourteen of the 27 are Championship footballers, but there is a hope expressed that enough Danes play in England to put any colleagues expecting an easy ride of it to rights.
Among them are Eriksen, Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen and his own son Kasper who left Manchester City for Notts County and then Leeds United before finally establishing himself as a Premier League winner with Leicester City.
“Denmark has been a lot easier than the Premier League (for him). The road for Kasper to the Premier League was a lot longer than so many other players with the same skill-set. A lot of managers looked at him as my son, rather than looked at him as Kasper and looked at his ability.”
It goes without saying that the old man is excited about the prospect of kid playing in a World Cup. How Denmark go about it is another thing.
An absence of style dictated a direct approach at home to Poland and a 4-0 win but an in-form Niklas Bendtner is back in the frame for these two legs and long balls are not the diet on which he tends to thrive.
Not so much Tottenham Hotspur’s Eriksen who, for all his graceful passing ability and penetration, has prospered in Hareide’s less frivolous system, albeit one where he has the freedom to roam and do damage where and how he pleases.
“He’s got responsibilities when we’re not in possession of course — he’s used to that with Spurs — but it’s not like he’s occupying a specific area on the pitch as he was asked to do before. He can roam around and be free and play his game.
“That’s worked really well for Christian in the last four months.”
PaperTalk Extra: Who will want the ball in Copenhagen?
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