Mick McCarthy's side will qualify for Euro 2020 if they can defeat Denmark on Monday but a dramatic return to form is required, writes Daniel McDonnell.
Republic of Ireland v Denmark Monday November 18, 19:45 Live On Sky Sports Football
A familiar climax
There is nothing new about Denmark coming to Dublin for a game that defines a campaign. For Republic of Ireland fans and players, it's a painfully familiar scenario.
While Monday evening's Euro 2020 decider at the Aviva Stadium is the tenth anniversary of Thierry Henry's handball in 2009, the visit of Denmark brings back grim recent memories.
Two years ago, Ireland's players felt they were going to make up for past World Cup qualifying disappointments when they took a 1-0 aggregate lead over Denmark just four minutes into the second leg of their playoff with Age Hareide's side. The stadium erupted. In the minutes that followed, Ireland squandered chances to go two ahead. And then they fell to pieces with Denmark winning 5-1 and strolling to Russia.
Therefore, it would be a stretch to suggest there's a mood of optimism in the air heading into another showdown. By kick-off time, that should have changed. A full stadium will create a serious atmosphere. But the simple fact is that Ireland must win this game to qualify for next summer's finals whereas a draw will do for Hareide's charges. That's a problem when you refer to the formbook and an unusual high volume of games between these teams.
They were pitted against each other in the maiden UEFA Nations League last year - when both matches finished scoreless - before they somehow ended up in the same pot again for this Euros campaign. June's encounter in Copenhagen ended 1-1 thanks to a late Shane Duffy leveller. For Ireland, the glass half full scenario is that they've actually drawn four of the five games between the sides so they can compete with their guests. The flip side is they haven't been able to beat Denmark in that window.
The Eriksen angle
Christian Eriksen scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 demolition but he's endured a frustrating campaign with Spurs and the hope for the hosts is that they can stifle his influence. Denmark's width has actually consistently posed Ireland problems and this is what McCarthy will have to take into consideration when selecting his team. His captain, Seamus Coleman, is suspended and this means Wolves' Matt Doherty gets to play the most significant game of his international career at right full.
The manager must decide who to use ahead of him. On the left, the combination of James McClean and Enda Stevens will be important on a wide pitch. Ireland lost their discipline in the last decider, but McCarthy has basically said that the plan this time around will be to exercise caution when attacking and ensure the shape is solid.
Early enthusiasm is inevitable but the bottom line Irish mission will be to stay in the match with a view to ensuring it's alive heading into the final half hour. In a strange way, O'Neill's charges probably scored too early last time around. They didn't have a plan to see it through and capitulated. McCarthy will be well prepared for this scenario and, while his team did toil in the October double header, there are reasons to believe they can do better here.
Central striker David McGoldrick missed the draw in Tbilisi and loss to Switzerland and his presence is essential if Ireland are to be effective further up the pitch as he holds the ball up well and brings others into the game. He's been particularly important in home fixtures this year. Midfielders Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane shone against Georgia in March because of the role he played. Switzerland did pass their way around Ireland here in September but Denmark actually aren't as impressive in possession.
Indeed, their away form this year poses questions. They staged a remarkable late comeback in Switzerland to draw 3-3 after being second best for 84 minutes and falling three behind. In Georgia in September, they ran out of ideas in a scoreless draw. In truth, they are fortunate to be in their current position as they were dominated by the Swiss in Copenhagen and nicked a late winner.
Their form wouldn't inspire confidence and, if they fail to take the initiative early, then it's plausible they will slot into a mode where their need for just a point might influence their thinking. If they concede, they can step things up but sometimes this scenario favours the side that simply have to win. A McCarthy side won't throw caution to the wind so weighing all these factors up comes round to the conclusion that laying Denmark at2.30 is the play.
They should be able to do enough to qualify but this will be tight and the likelihood of a strong Irish start means that Denmark are too short to collect all three points
Ireland can get ahead
Ireland players have joked that they scored too early in the World Cup playoff, but McCarthy insists that they won't sit back with a view to creating tension.
Should Ireland make it to the interval unscathed, it's plausible to construct an argument that they can step things up after the restart. It will be a major challenge to see it through if they can take the initiative but the 11/5 on Sportsbook about Ireland/2nd Half in the first goal market time is worth a speculative play.
The Duffy threat
Shane Duffy takes the armband for the night against a team that he is always a goal threat against.
Denmark are good in the air and can cause Ireland issues on set pieces but they always seem to have problems with Duffy who has scored two of his international goals against the Danes. He's remained dangerous at Brighton this year and not just with his head. Duffy's entire presence can pose issues in the opposition area and the 8/5 about the big man getting a shot on target across the game is tempting.