At the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Monday evening, Ireland welcomed Denmark in what was the last game of their respective Euro 2020 qualifying campaigns, and a huge contest the result of which would directly determine the occupant of a spot at the tournament next year, as the two teams battled it out to finish among the top two in Group D.
There was absolutely no chance for both of them to make it with Switzerland wedged firmly in between in the table, and having to lose away to Gibraltar (plus an Ireland win here) for that to happen. Let’s face it – it was never going to pan out that way.
Ireland boss Mick McCarthy had earlier revealed that Brighton winger Aaron Connolly wouldn’t play in this game, while captain Seamus Coleman was suspended.
Darren Randolph was in goal. Stand-in captain Shane Duffy and John Egan held the control of the back line, extended to the left by Enda Stevens and to the right by Matt Doherty. Glenn Whelan and Connor Hourihane sat deep in midfield, with the trio of Alan Browne, Jeff Hendrick and James McClean the trio behind striker David McGoldrick.
Denmark head coach Aage Hareide chose the following team to start:
Kasper Schmeichel stood between the posts. Mathias Jorgensen and Simon Kjaer formed the heart of defence, flanked by Jens Stryger Larsen on the left and Henrik Dalsgaard on the right. Thomas Delaney and Lasse Schone played as the double pivot in the middle, with Christian Eriksen as the number 10 flanked by Martiin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen. Andreas Cornelius led the line upfront.
The First Half
Ireland were expected to start strong, but they were still surprisingly dominant in the opening minutes. They controlled the ball well and combined nicely, looking to get through the Danish defence. Nonetheless, the visitors held out through the early pressure, but their intention of slowing the pace of the game down wasn’t easy to achieve. Ireland’s high pressing gave them trouble, but Hareide was more concerned by what happened to Delaney in the ninth minute.
The midfielder went down with a painful grimace after stepping awkwardly, and the Danish medical team quickly judged that he wouldn’t be able to continue. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg came on from the bench.
Denmark tried to play more directly in order to break through the press, but their passing accuracy left a lot to be desired with even Eriksen wasting a few arguably promising moments. But as time wore on, they pushed the hosts further towards Randolph and with about a quarter of the game gone, they finally became the team in control of the proceedings. The Irish, who seemed like they had a plan before, suddenly started panicking and giving the ball away far more frequently than they’d have liked, even in their own half.
As the 26th minute expired, Cornelius headed the ball down for Eriksen to hit on the volley, but Duffy put his head in the way of the shot. Hareide had another worry from that situation as Cornelius clashed heads with Egan and needed bandaging. Unlike Delaney earlier, he was allowed to play on, but just a few minutes later he went off holding his hamstring, making way for Kasper Dolberg.
The newcomer hadn’t even broken a run when Hourihane had a great chance to open the scoring at the other end. He took advantage of slight indecision in the Danish defence and broke into the box, but his shot simply wasn’t good enough to trouble Schmeichel.
The moment gave the home side a boost and they threatened again quickly with McGoldrick bringing the ball down for Browne to hit from around 20 yards, but the winger failed to hit the target. McGoldrick then decided to try one from range himself, but like Browne, he missed the frame of the goal. In injury time, Stevens and McClean caused the visitors some problems down the left flank, and following a corner from that side, Whelan almost found the head of Duffy at the far post with a good cross, but Kjaer defended it very well.
The Second Half
Egan remained in the dressing room after the break, continuing the line of players substituted due to injury, and was replaced by Ciaran Clark.
Ireland charged forward again, swinging in a couple of crosses and winning a few corners straight away, and in the 49th minute, Hourihane whipped a highly dangerous ball into the six yards which surprised Schmeichel, but McClean failed to divert it into the net.
The Irish offensive continued and Denmark was forced to defend with their lives for a while, but defend they did. They only occasionally tried to hit on the counterattack, but to no use with their passing still abysmal. The pressure on their back line seemed to be mounting with every minute gone, and there came a point where it started looking like it’s only a matter of time before they broke. Browne and McGoldrick both came close in this period and it seemed only luck kept Schmeichel’s net intact.
With a quarter of the match to go, McCarthy replaced Hourihane with forward Callum Robinson, adding more firepower upfront.
With two substitutions wasted through injury, Hareide was reluctant to use up his last one, but he instructed his players to come out and press higher up, and it produced results. Ireland weren’t able to carry the ball unchallenged across the halfway line anymore and mistakes started creeping in on them. And in the 73rd minute, the change of balance cost them dearly.
Denmark kept the ball in the opposition half for a while and Dalsgaard whipped in a cross in behind the Irish high line. Braithwaite caught both Duffy and Clarke on their heels, ran in and diverted the ball past Randolph to the dismay of almost every person in the stands.
The players in green shirts (Ireland) exploded with nerves, and the visitors knew how to take advantage of that. They intensified contact, playing constantly on the edge of foul which seemed to drive the hosts crazy for a while. But eventually, Denmark lost the power to keep the battle far from Schmeichel and they fell back, with even Dolberg and Eriksen playing just outside their own box.
With six minutes to go, Hareide finally realized his back line needed strengthening, and he sent on Andreas Christensen instead of Schone. But the Irish attacks continued and less than a minute after Christensen came in, the score was level. Stevens whipped a cross from the left and Doherty made amends for his mistake earlier by flying through the air and slamming past Schmeichel.
But it still wasn’t enough for Ireland; they needed to win, and McCarthy’s last throw of the dice was to order Duffy to move upfront beside McGoldrick.
Crosses were being flung into the Danish box constantly from both flanks, and even Schmeichel looked rather nervous and earned a booking late on for time wasting. The effort some of the Irish players were putting in at this late stage was incredible, most notably McClean, but in the end, they just couldn’t find a way to win.
One can’t help feeling for the Irish after a game like this. They gave their all, played for 90+ minutes without relenting, charging their opponents down at any opportunity. They certainly didn’t lack motivation or commitment, and they can’t have many regrets. What they did lack was a bit of magic, that extra creative spark that’s sometimes needed to break through defending as resolute as the one done by Denmark in this game.
The Danes will have felt huge relief in the moment referee Felix Brych blew the final whistle, not least because it meant that their place at the tournament next year wasn’t questionable anymore. It appeared at times that they doubted it themselves during the game, faced with the relentless spirit of the home team. But they got over the line, even if they did have to crawl over it. It wouldn’t take long for the immediate impressions of the game to wear off, and they’d soon be celebrating a successful qualifying campaign.
They have, however, finished second in the group, with Switzerland running riot in Gibraltar (1-6).
IRELAND: Randolph 7, Duffy 7, Egan 7 (46′ Clark 7), Stevens 7.5, Doherty 7.5, Whelan 7 (82′ Maguire N/A), Hourihane 7.5 (68′ Robinson 6.5), Hendrick 7, Browne 7, McClean 7, McGoldrick 7.
DENMARK: Schmeichel 7, Jorgensen 7.5, Kjaer 8, Larsen 7, Dalsgaard 7.5, Delaney N/A (13′ Hojbjerg 6.5), Schone 7 (84′ Christensen N/A), Eriksen 6, Braithwaite 7, Poulsen 5.5, Cornelius 6 (33′ Dolberg 6).
GOALS: Braithwaite 73′, Doherty 85′.
YELLOW CARDS: Schone 33′, Whelan 55′, McClean 78′, Schmeichel 90′.
REFEREE: Felix Brych (Germany).
DATE & VENUE: November 18, 2019, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland.
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