D-Day, then, in more ways than one: Denmark, Dublin, Decision Time.
After a prodigious display of anti-football in Copenhagen, Denmark are expecting Ireland to be more expansive and attacking at home in tomorrow night's second leg, and while perhaps that is what both Irish and Danish fans want, we doubt that Martin O'Neill will grant everyone's wish. In a moment we'll run through the Irish side that we would like to see picked for tomorrow night, but first, let's speculate as to the side O'Neill will probably select.
The team that will probably start
Ahead of these playoffs, Martin O'Neill admitted that he preferred to have the second leg in Dublin, although tempered his enthusiasm with two concerns. The first of these is now moot: O'Neill had predicted that it was an inevitability that some of the ten Irish players carrying yellow cards would be suspended for the return leg, but this has not transpired. (Evidently, nobody was more affronted by this rule than Saturday's referee, who heroically gave out zero yellow cards. Harry Arter was the most fortunate).
The second of O'Neill's concern remains very much alive: the second leg in Dublin potentially offers Denmark an extra half-hour to score an away goal. Should they score at any point, Ireland must score at least twice to avoid elimination, something they have done only thrice at home under O'Neill: against Moldova, Gibraltar, and Bosnia.
With the threat of Denmark's away goal hovering over Irish heads, we expect O'Neill to go for a relatively conservative selection, with the only change the return of David Meyler from suspension. He is most likely to replace Callum O'Dowda. We're therefore expecting O'Neill to pick the side that started our last Must Win Game: the defeat of Wales in Cardiff:
Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Arter, Meyler; Brady, Hendrick, McClean; Murphy.
That said, predicting O'Neill's starting lineups are often fools' errands, so this Reputable Irish Sports Site is willing to admit that we could actually be wrong here.
The team we would like to see
If the selection is the same as Cardiff, then the gameplan may be similar, too. While that worked for Ireland in Cardiff, it may not tomorrow night. Wales were greatly diminished by the loss of Joe Allen to injury, which forced Aaron Ramsey - who had been causing Ireland damage by driving into space between David Meyler and the Irish centre-backs - to drop deep into midfield. When that happened, Wales' attacking threat virtually vanished.
Ireland were also too deep for much of the first-half, with O'Neill revealing after the game that at half-time he told Robbie Brady, James McClean, and Jeff Hendrick to press higher up the pitch in support of Daryl Murphy. It was through this that Ireland scored the only goal, and could then afford to sit deep to defend given how blunt Wales were without Bale and Allen, with Ramsey withdrawn.
Therefore, we would like to see an Irish side that is relatively aggressive, while also secure enough at the base of midfield to deal with the scheming Christian Eriksen.
We propose a 4-2-3-1, with Randolph, Christie, Duffy, Clark, and Ward all keeping their places. We reckon Harry Arter should keep his place at the base of midfield, with David Meyler returning at the expense of Jeff Hendrick. Hendrick was poor in Copenhagen, with games often bypassing him when he finds himself in a congested midfield. The other change from Saturday night we'd like to see is, unsurprisingly, the inclusion of Wes Hoolahan. Robbie Brady and James McClean are undroppable, meaning Wes would get the nod ahead of Callum O'Dowda. After that, there is a decision to be made up front: Murphy or Long?
Ireland's attacking plan in Copenhagen (not that it was deployed too often) involved booting the ball into the channels. O'Dowda and McClean were too deep to get on the ball when Ireland broke, whereas Murphy was too slow. That said, the inclusion of Hoolahan offers Ireland somewhat of an out-ball (if it's played into feet!) and gives the wide-men an extra few seconds to counter into the space ahead of them, safe in the knowledge that Hoolahan will likely pick them out. And at the moment, you would back Murphy over Long to finish any subsequent chance in the penalty area. This allows Ireland to sit relatively deep while also posing a better threat on the counter-attack.
Therefore, our proposed team is as follows:
Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Arter, Meyler; Brady, Hoolahan, McClean; Murphy
This leaves Hendrick and Long as very useful options off the bench, both have the energy to hassle tiring Danish defenders as the second-half wears on. And given the first leg results, there is a possibility that this game goes all the way into the Dublin night...
Given the fare on display in Copenhagen, it is entirely possible that neither side scores over two hours of play in Dublin. Therefore, we'll need to pick five penalty takes, and here are our five based on our proposed selection above. In no particular order...
Do you agree? What side would you pick? And who would you trust on penalties? Let us know.