Lunchtime. Tension filled. The footballing gods have thrown up four intriguing playoff fixtures. The pick of the fixtures is Sweden and Italy, two sides who have perennially being in the World Cup, one of these proud nations will be watching from the outside this time around. Croatia on paper look to have too much against Greece and then you have realistically two 50/50 fixtures.
Northern Ireland will fancy their chances of progressing against a Swiss side who after winning their first nine games succumbed to Portugal away in the final game of the group. Republic of Ireland and Denmark will both fancy their chances against each other too. This blog will look at the Danish challenge and as you will see, there are several threats in the side.
Group E – Summary:
Denmark will rue the early start to this World Cup campaign. Three points from the first three fixtures spelled trouble but the Danes regrouped superbly thanks in no small part to Christian Eriksen who was prominent in the scoring sheet on several occasions. An emphatic 4-1 win over Kazakhstan at home gave the side momentum and they remained unbeaten for the rest of the group. The standout performance was their 4-0 demolition of group winners Poland at Copenhagen; a game where the Danes played some sublime football with Eriksen pivotal in attacking play. The emergence of Thomas Delaney and Andreas Cornelius was seen in this encounter with good strikes. Poland simply had no answer to the invention and attacking threat of the hosts. This win was confirmed with an important road trip win over Montenegro by a solitary goal, that man Eriksen again with a quality strike but the hallmark of this fixture was the performance defensively. Montenegro never looked like scoring with Kasper Schmeichel and defense easily repelling the home threat. The final home game of the group was an interesting affair. Eriksen again to the fore and his second half strike looked like being the difference but Denmark could not add the second goal and ten man Romania snatched a late equalizer. A reality check for the Danes ahead of the playoffs; their clinical goal threat in previous rounds had deserted them in the final round and a repeat against the Republic of Ireland will spell elimination.
Denmark have such a strong central core. Starting with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Denmark have a world class keeper in their ranks. His command of his area, shot stopping ability and his relationship with a back four led by Kjaer is rock solid. Republic of Ireland will not get easy chances against this outfit. The central midfield area centers around the mercurial talent of Christian Eriksen; his performances for club and country this year have being sublime. Creativity, inventive and capable of scoring from long range or from short range after slick passing. It will be interesting to see how Republic of Ireland’s management contain this threat. Who will be assigned man marking duties on the Tottenham player? Meyler is suspended. Whelan, Hourihane, McCarthy surely look the options with the likes of Hendricks and Arter asked to focus on the attacking side of play. The attacking threat for Denmark comes in several forms. Bendtner has returned to form with Rosenborg; prominent in the Champions League this season. Delaney from Werder Bremen has provided timely goals for the national side in this campaign; clever player who has explosive pace to get into positions. His hat-trick in this campaign so far is warning for the Republic of Ireland. Cornelius provides the physicality and power as well if Denmark need to go direct.
Denmark have shown both strengths and weak points. Montenegro were able to stifle Denmark at home for long periods and came away with a deserved away day triumph. Romania as well were well organized defensively and despite being reduced to ten players were able to probe sufficiently to create the equalizer. The Poland away loss was a mixed bag; Lewandowski was on fire on the day but Denmark gallantly fought back to get a result. Their team work and support of colleagues is quite similar to the Republic of Ireland in this regard. Eriksen is their ace in the pack but there are other threats for Martin O’Neill to contend with; solid defensively is the priority and hope to catch Denmark on a set-piece to setup the home second leg. Denmark like Republic of Ireland will have no fear of their opposition and away goals should come into the equation massively. The second leg away may play into Denmark’s hand as the Republic of Ireland will be forced to take the initiative; something that does not come easily for Martin O’Neill’s side. So much on the line. It will be an intriguing fixture for the neutral. I cannot call it. Roll on November!