And so now we know the opposition standing between the Republic of Ireland and a place at next summer’s World Cup.
It’s Denmark. The country who famously "came off the beach" to win Euro ’92. They took the place of then war-torn Yugosalvia, who were suspended from international competition prior to the tournament in Sweden.
The Danes certainly seized their chance and against all the odds defeated Germany 2-0 in the final to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup. Six years before that tournament they qualified for their first World Cup and have subsequently dined at football’s top table on three occasions since.
As a result of Tuesday’s draw, Irish fans will no doubt take a keener interest in the current Danish crop – the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Andreas Christensen, Yussuf Poulsen, Christian Eriksen and Nicklas Bendter to name just a few.
If history is anything to go by, the Republic of Ireland hold the advantage in the 11 competitive games played so far, with their four victories, compared to two for Denmark and five draws.
So let’s delve back in time.
Danes cast aside but to no avail
The qualification for the 1958 World Cup saw Ireland and Denmark in a group alongside England. The latter were expected to comfortably qualify, but the Irish were still well in the hunt for a place at the finals in Sweden when our neighbours came to Dalymount Park in the autumn of 1957. A 2-1 win over the Danes at home followed by a 5-1 loss to England were the results for Ireland in advance of the Phibsboro clash.
Alf Ringstead put the home side a goal up in the fourth minute. It was a lead they held until the 90th minute. A cross from the Preston North End wizard Tom Finney found the head of John Ateyo. The ball would nestle in the Irish net. "You could hear silence down at The Pillar," - the words of the late Philip Greene as he informed those listening on Radio Eireann.
Ireland would finish off the campaign with a 2-0 away to Denmark to leave them two points behind the English in the final table.
Gloom both on and off the field
Onwards to qualification for World Cup 1970.
With Mick Meagan in sole charge, the Republic of Ireland began their quest to make Mexico with a home game against the Danes in October 1968. Johnny Giles scored from the penalty spot to tie things up at 1-1 just before the break. Shortly after the resumption fog shrouded Dalymount and with zero visibility, the match was abandoned.
The rescheduled fixture took place exactly a year later and 90 minutes was played, with the final scoreline 1-1. It would turn out to be the only point Ireland would pick in a group that also contained Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The away assignment in Copenhagen saw Meagan’s charges lose 2-0.
A thriller at the Parken
Ireland and Denmark locked horns again in the qualifiers for the 1980 European Championships.
It was off to Copenhagen for the opening game in May 1978. Noel Dunne in the Irish Independent described the encounter as a "match of superb quality and, especially towards the end, of almost nail-biting tension".
The vistors were 2-0 up by the 28th minute courtesy of Frank Stapleton and Tony Grealish. The Danes did get one back before the break, but when Gerry Daly restored Ireland’s two-goal advantage in the 66th minute, it looked as if the points were in the bag.
But with just over ten minutes left, Denmark were awarded a penalty when David O’Leary brought down Henning Jensen. Benny Nielsen slammed home the spot kick. The home crowd had barely time to draw breath when 20-year-old defender Soren Lerby of Ajax hit a screamer from 20 yards to tie it up at 3-3. That’s how it finished and Ireland’s 11-year wait for a competitive away win went on.
The return tie on 2 May 1979 saw the Republic, in less than convincing fashion, record a 2-0 win at Lansdowne Road. A fortunate goal by Gerry Daly on half-time and a trademark header by Don Givens 20 minutes from the end sealed the victory.
Despite twice beating the Danes, Johnny Giles’ men were never in contention to top a group that also contained England (winners), Northern Ireland and Bulgaria.
End of an era - beginning of something new
While Ireland disappointed in their attempt to reach the 1984 European Championship, there was still hope that they could give the 1986 World Cup qualifiers a good rattle, considering that many of the squad who just failed to reach the ’82 finals were still around.
It proved not to be the case, however, with Denmark, now inspired by the likes of Michael Laudrup, Jesper Olsen and the veteran Allan Simonsen defeating Eoin Hand’s Ireland 3-0 and 4-1 respectively as they qualified for Mexico. The latter reverse in Dublin was Hand’s last game in charge of the national side.
Jack Charlton was appointed manager less than three months later. Better times were just around the corner.
Euro champs pipped at the post in race to the USA
Those of a certain age will probably recall Ireland’s two meeting with Denmark in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. Also in this seven-team group were Spain, Northern Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia and Albania.
After Denmark’s fantastic triumph at the Euros, there was talk about the ‘hangover’ that might follow. Sure enough, they began their quest to reach USA ’94 with three consecutive 0-0 draws. The last of those came against Jack Charlton’s men on 14 October 1992.
Indeed, it was an understrength Irish outfit that took the field in the Danish capital. No Paul McGrath or Ronnie Whelan, and then no Kevin Sheedy for the last half an hour, but they battled gamely for a 0-0 stalemate in a tie where Packie Bonner stood defiantly between the posts.
Come the following April, however, Denmark had finally found some momentum on the back of wins over Lativa and Spain. On a day borrowed from high summer, the European champions arrived in Dublin in good spirits.
They capitalised on a mix up in the Irish defence to take the lead on 27 minutes – Kim Vilfort delightfully chipping the ball over the head of Bonner. It was a case of Irish frustration until the 75th minute. Niall Quinn, as was his way, rose higher than everybody else to deftly head the ball into the corner of the Danish net.
The game finished 1-1. Not a vintage display from Ireland but the point earned ultimately was crucial as they edged Denmark on goal difference in the race to reach the finals.
More recent times
In non competitive fixtures, there have been two meetings, with the Irish winning both games. Mick McCarthy’s Ireland were 3-0 winners in a friendly prior to the 2002 World Cup at Lansdowne Road.
Aarhus was the venue in 2007, as the visitors with Steve Staunton at the helm, recording an impressive 4-0 victory.