Football/Soccer

We need to fight for everything to beat Denmark: Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

Martin O'Neill watches training on the eve of Republic of Ireland's World Cup clash with Denmark
From Brendan Crossan in Copenhagen

Play-off, first leg: Denmark v Republic of Ireland (Saturday, 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports Main Event & RTE2)

MARTIN O’Neill has urged his Republic of Ireland players to “compete for almost everything at every single minute” and hopes that will be enough to see off play-off opponents Denmark and reach next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.

Compared to Denmark’s jovial pre-match press conference earlier in the day, the Republic’s was a more sombre, business-like affair at the Telia Parken Stadium last night.

It’s a trait of O’Neill’s where he cuts a more pensive figure the day before big games – and they don’t come much bigger than tonight’s first leg showdown with the Danes in Copenhagen.

“The players have matured,” said O’Neill, who took charge four years ago.

“There is a good belief in the camp that maybe didn’t exist a couple of seasons ago - inner self-belief, not one that is flaunted.

“We know we must compete for almost everything at every given minute. While every national side has limitations, we’re going to try to stay as strong as we can and play to our strengths which is the most important thing and something that we do.”

Glenn Whelan is expected to come in from the cold and anchor the Irish midfield due to David Meyler’s suspension, while Shane Long should get the nod as the lone striker given Denmark’s lack of pace at the heart of their defence.

Danish manager Age Hareide praised the visitors’ team spirit and togetherness ahead of tonight's first leg clash, but doesn’t expect any tactical surprises from O’Neill, whom he played with at Norwich City in the 1980s.

“Their gameplan is easy,” said Hareide, “they don't change from game to game. You can see the same style of play.

“You also see the way that they stick together and the way that the team spirit spreads out in the team. They work well together.”

Despite a patchy start to their qualification campaign, the Danes finished strongly in Group E to snatch a play-off berth with Spurs ace Christian Eriksen bagging eight goals in nine competitive games.

The Irish camp won’t admit it – but if they manage to nullify Eriksen across the two games, the Republic of Ireland will have one foot in next year's finals in Russia.

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Football/Soccer