Revenge against Denmark unlikely as Republic of Ireland try to create the right mood music
Uefa Nations League Cup B4: Republic of Ireland v Denmark (tonight, Dublin, 7.45pm)
THE virtual silence that rippled through a traumatised Aviva Stadium 11 months ago probably still haunts Martin O’Neill and his Republic of Ireland players.
Tonight, they may be hosting Denmark again – in the slightly less stressful Uefa Nations League Cup – but the good news is Christian Eriksen, who hit a sublime hat-trick in Dublin last November, won’t be playing due to stomach injury.
While no-one will forget Eriksen’s “genius” that knocked the Republic out of World Cup contention, O’Neill was keen to remind the assembled media in Abbotstown yesterday of the home side’s absentees.
Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady – arguably Ireland’s two best players – James McCarthy, Stephen Ward and Jonathan Walters are on the missing list as O’Neill tries to repair the damage of last month’s humbling 4-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
In these austere times, every resource counts. The perennial problem for O’Neill is that his squad is not nearly equipped to absorb such losses.
Although the inaugural Nations League gives teams the chance of reaching Euro 2020 via the ‘B’ roads around Europe, it was interesting to note O’Neill has been talking about European qualification “starting in earnest” next March (the more traditional qualification route).
The Irish host the Danes and the Welsh over the next few days in the Nations League but it would be a major surprise if they progressed to the next phase of the convoluted qualification tournament given their thinning resources.
Still, the Republic of Ireland manager is under more pressure than he’s ever been since taking over five years ago, probably due to the abject nature of last month’s performance in Cardiff.
The Derryman's situation certainly wasn't helped when the Irish camp morphed into a soap opera, with Roy Keane and Harry Arter its central characters.
Arter did not make himself available for the Welsh tie in early September but was persuaded back to the fold after both the player and assistant manager apparently ironed out their differences that emerged back in June.
Arter, currently on loan at Cardiff City, is one of the few squad members playing regularly in the English Premiership.
Rather than throw the arms around the 13-times capped Arter, O’Neill threw the gauntlet down to the midfielder to prove himself.
“I genuinely believe this - we all have to prove ourselves and of course the better you’re playing at club level, the more confidence you have,” O’Neill said.
“Harry is at least starting for Cardiff although results haven’t been great but he is starting in matches. If he gets the opportunity I think he’s ready for it now. I think he’s put that [row with Keane] behind him. We all have and he’s come back into the squad – and the reason he’s come back into the squad is exactly to do that: to prove a point.”
In a strange way, the shenanigans that engulfed the Irish camp over the last six weeks or more have probably served to distract from facing the Danes 11 months on from that horrible night in the capital.
O’Neill has been working hard on trying to strike the right mood music rather than talking up the chances of avenging last year’s World Cup play-off defeat.
While he’s relieved Eriksen will not be prowling around Lansdowne Road tonight, O’Neill insists the Danes are more than a one-man team.
“Their captain [Simon Kjaer] said Eriksen is a player they will miss but they would adjust accordingly. I think Denmark will miss that genius he has but they have good players capable of dealing without him.
“In their matches at the World Cup, for instance, he got off to a really great start and probably by his own phenomenally high standards, maybe the rest of the tournament, he didn’t play as well but it didn’t stop Denmark from adjusting their game, eventually going out on penalties to a team that reached the final [Croatia]. So these boys can play.”
After their desperately meek performance against Wales, O’Neill experimented with a 3-5-2 formation in their 1-1 friendly draw in Poland a few days later and he may stick with that plan against the Danes tonight to deny their opponents space in the middle of the field.
After all, O’Neill won’t need reminding of Denmark manager Age Hareide sarcastically thanking his former Norwich City team-mate for giving his team so much space in last November’s play-off that resulted in a 5-1 mauling.
Shane Long has shrugged off an ankle problem and should be fit to resume in attack, while Wolves’ in-form Matt Doherty is likely to fill one of the full-back berths, with Arter expected to get his chance to prove the doubters – Roy Keane included – wrong.
But victory might just be out of reach for a weakened Ireland.