REPUBLIC OF IRELAND complete their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a tough contest against Denmark on Monday evening. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) sets the scene.
Republic of Ireland v Denmark | Monday 18th November 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
It's tight at the top of Euro 2020 qualification Group D. The Republic of Ireland are in a three-way wrestle with Switzerland and Denmark for a top two finish heading into the final matchday on Monday. However, with the Swiss facing a straightforward showdown in Gibraltar, the Dublin dust-up between Ireland and Denmark enters winner-takes-all territory.
Mick McCarthy's hosts know victory will secure the Republic’s place in a third successive European Championship. Meanwhile, Denmark can progress should they avoid defeat at Lansdowne Road with March’s play-offs looming for the nation that misses out on their pre-game objective. No wonder the Irish boss has been labelling the contest a ‘cup final’.
The gruff Yorkshireman has urged his Boys In Green to embrace the occasion and claims the pressure his players will experience can inspire them to success in this straight shoot-out. But do Ireland possess the craft, quality and composure to seal the deal? Odds of 13/5 (Unibet) give Mick’s men just an implied 28% chance of taking top honours on Monday.
Ireland unsuited to front-foot approach
It would be difficult to dismiss those odds as disrespectful. It’s been a case of substance over style with McCarthy in the driving seat with little difference to the on-field product served up by predecessor Martin O’Neill. The Republic have once again lived off set-piece proficiency, limited ball possession and a well-drilled defensive game plan.
Pinching a point in Copenhagen, and holding Switzerland in Dublin, should have acted as a major building block. McCarthy’s functional side were focussing on accumulating points rather than plaudits, and the team on track before a wretched October; an abject effort in Georgia was followed by defeat to the Swiss in Geneva, leaving ROI in an awkward position.
Few would have turned down this opportunity – a winner-takes-all tie against Denmark in Dublin – at the beginning of the campaign. However, Irish fans are well aware of the team’s glaring flaws which were ruthlessly exposed in a similar situation against the Scandinavians during a play-off for the 2018 World Cup only 24 months ago.
The Republic’s limited approach makes chasing games of this nature a frightening prospect. Adept counter-attacking sides, such as the Danes, are well capable of putting ROI to the sword once they stray away from their safety-first shape. And with the visitors only requiring a point from the clash, they can afford to invite Irish pressure before breaking.
Republic's limited goal threat
Despite playing no-hopers Gibraltar twice, Ireland have still accumulated an alarmingly slim average of 1.00 Expected Goals (xG) per-game across their first seven Group D fixtures with their six-goal tally clearly concerning. Exclude Gib and McCarthy’s men are averaging just 0.52 xG per-game, scoring a paltry three goals in nine hours of action.
Those three goals arrived via a Conor Hourihane free-kick, Shane Duffy header from a corner and David McGoldrick’s noddle courtesy of a cross from second phase corner ball. With only four international goals across the five available strikers, a dearth of attacking talent, and lack of inspiration from midfield, ROI are again likely to focus on an aerial assault.
Defensively, the Republic are resolute, rigid and organised. McCarthy’s men remain a tight and compact outfit and that’s reflected in the low goals return with 20 of their past 25 matches producing fewer than three goals. Ireland have also avoided conceding a first-half goal in 12 of their past 14 outings, so an unadventurous opening could be on the cards.
Denmark comfortable in control
Denmark have the luxury of knowing that if they avoid defeat then they are through to the finals. Age Hareide and his players are aware that Ireland can't be conservative in their approach and so the Red-White can afford to be patient in Dublin.
The Dynamite are a competent outfit with plenty of threat in the final-third. Even excluding encounters with Gibraltar, Denmark have averaged 1.97 xG during qualification, grabbing 10 goals in those five fixtures. Christian Eriksen remains in good goalscoring form for his country and namesake Christian Gytkjær has five goals for the Red-White this calendar year.
Hareide’s troops might lack household names but they’re comfortable and capable of collecting positive performances against continental rivals. Exclude the Scandinavians 3-0 friendly defeat to Slovakia when fielding a team of amateurs back in September 2018, and the Red-White remain unbeaten since November 2016, an outstanding run of 33 games.
That sample obviously includes a run to the Last 16 of the World Cup before exiting to eventual runners-up Croatia on penalties. Sure, the Danes were far from thrilling in Russia, but they did hold France to a stalemate, just one of 16 (W17-D16-L0) in that unbeaten streak, including four of five match-ups with the Republic in the same sequence.
The betting angle
So how to unearth value from a trappy-looking tie? My preference is to keep Denmark onside in a match featuring few clear-cut goalscoring opportunities. With that in mind, the 6/5 (Bet365) on Denmark double chance and Under 3 Goals appeals. This selection pays out if the game ends 0-0, 1-1, or if the Danes take top honours by 1-0 or 2-0.
Obviously, the prospect of a goal-frenzy in the dying embers of the contest has to be considered as both teams potentially push for decisive interventions, and the possibility of Denmark running away with proceedings – ala 2017 – can’t also be ruled out. However, I wouldn’t expect Ireland to chase the game until late in the day, negating such chance.
Since 2016, Ireland’s only competitive triumphs have come against Gibraltar, Georgia, Moldova and Wales (W5-D8-L5) with the Boys In Green scoring more than once in only three of their past 22 meaningful matches (versus Gib (x2) and Moldova). And despite ROI'S dogged nature, that toothless attack is likely to prove their undoing with Mick's men refocussing their attention towards March's play-offs.
Republic of Ireland v Denmark – Denmark double chance and Under 3 Goals (6/5 Bet365)