Football/Soccer

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill warns of Christian Eriksen threat

Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen is as good as Gareth Bale and Neymar, says Martin O'Neill

REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has no man-marking plans to curb the threat of Denmark danger man Christian Eriksen ahead of next month’s World Cup two-legged play-off showdown.

The Spurs playmaker is undoubtedly the biggest hurdle between the Republic reaching next year’s finals in Russia. Eriksen has almost single-handedly guided the Danes to the play-offs after bagging eight goals in nine qualifiers.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Romelu Lukaku and Robert Lewandowski scored more goals in qualification than the 25-year-old schemer.

Speaking at yesterday’s squad announcement in Three Headquarters in Dublin, O’Neill heaped praise on Denmark’s best player and rates him as highly as world greats Neymar, Eden Hazard and Luis Suarez.

“I think Eriksen has become as important to Denmark as Gareth Bale has to Wales and he is certainly of that ilk,” cautioned O’Neill.

“He is playing exceptionally well. If you are talking about [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo being the two outstanding players in the world, then Bale is in that little group behind them that includes Hazard, Bale, Suarez, Neymar - all of those players and Eriksen, in his last year both for club and country, has put himself into that sort of category. I can’t pay him a much higher compliment.”

Despite the manager’s lofty opinion of the in-form Dane, he is not a believer in designating a man-marker on him and is comforted by the fact the Republic dealt reasonably well with Bosnian duo Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic during the Euro 2016 play-offs as well as curtailing the significant threat of Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the finals themselves.

“I think, first of all, you have to get close enough to him [Eriksen] so that he’s not running the show and he’s not running the show from very difficult positions for us - in other words, 30 yards outside our box.

“And if we can get to the stage in either of the matches where he has to go further back to retrieve the ball then the further back he is the better for us.

“But I've often thought man-marking a top quality player, if you were thinking about that, the players do extricate themselves from these difficult positions and that's what makes them so good. It's a difficulty but we have to deal with it.”

The Kildrea native added: “Going back to the play-off games we had against Bosnia, if you look now at the centre-forward [Dzeko], he is playing extraordinarily well and so is the little midfield player [Pjanic].

“By no stretch of the imagination did they not exist in the games but we just seemed to negate their talents...

“Listen, I can say that now at the end of the matches when you look at them… [But] I think we can take heart from those two games.”

O’Neill named a 34-man panel ahead of the two crucial games with Denmark on Saturday November 11 (a) and Tuesday November 14 (h).

Injured striker Jonathan Walters, who missed Ireland’s famous victory over Wales earlier this month, was not named among the squad but O’Neill will keep the door ajar for the bustling Burnley man should he make sufficient progress.

David Meyler, one of Ireland’s better players in Cardiff, is ruled out of the first leg at the 38,000-capacity Telia Parken Stadium in Copenhagen in 15 days’ time, but fellow midfielder James McCarthy is on the way back having featured in Everton’s League Cup defeat to Chelsea in mid-week.

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph, Keiren Westwood, Rob Elliot, Colin Doyle

Defenders: Cyrus Christie, Matt Doherty, Paul McShane, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, John O'Shea, Kevin Long, Stephen Ward

Midfielders: Aiden McGeady, Daryl Horgan, Alan Browne, Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane, Harry Arter, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Eunan O'Kane, David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan, Callum O'Dowda, Jonny Hayes, James McClean

Forwards: Shane Long, Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick, Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan, Aiden O'Brien

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