Denmark v Ireland, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, 7:45pm
Live blog on RTÉ.ie and the RTÉ News Now App from 7pm.
Live coverage on RTÉ2 from from 7.25pm. Also available on rte.ie/player (RoI only).
Live commentary in an extended edition of Saturday Sport, starting at 2:45pm and running until 10pm.
Weather conditions in Copenhagen are similar to those in Ireland at the moment. It will be a chilly but clear night come kick-off with no rain forecast, low winds and temperatures of 5 to 7 degrees celsuis.
A STRAIGHT-FORWARD TASK AND A STRAIGHT-FORWARD APPROACH
You can put away your calculators, stop looking at other groups and going through all kinds of mathematical gymnastics to subtract the lowest team’s results from the tables, we’re into a good old-fashioned two-legged play-off here: win or stay home next summer.
It’s the kind of situation that manager Martin O’Neill thrives in, and there’ll be no surprise about the way he’ll approach the game, setting up Ireland to keep things tight at the back above all.
Don’t expect thrilling attacking football from Ireland, it will be defence first and if the chance arises to nick a goal on the break or from a deadball, all the better.
Having qualified for the play-offs on the back of what was essential a straight play-off against Wales in Cardiff, O’Neill looks almost certain to keep faith with the side that started that game. That means no Wes Hoolahan but at this stage, that won’t come as a surprise to anyone.
David Meyler’s suspension and James McCarthy’s continued injury problems mean that Glenn Whelan will most likely start in the centre but is unlikely to be tasked with much more than sitting in front of the back four and shielding them and possibly doing a man-marking job on Christian Eriksen.
The only other possible change from the Wales game could come up front with the return to fitness of Shane Long, but given Long’s poor form this season and how well Daryl Murphy acquitted himself in Cardiff and his two goals against Moldova, he might just hang onto his place leading the line.
Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Ward were O’Neill’s man injury concerns this week but both came through a full training session yesterday and both are expected to be fit to take their place in the starting line-up.
Expected Irish team: Randolph, Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward, Whelan, Arter, Hendrick, McClean, Brady, Murphy
DIRECT DANISH HAVE A SPRINKLING OF REAL QUALITY
When Denmark came out of the drum to face Ireland the general reaction was that this was the best possible tie for Ireland. The Danes were the lowest seeded team in the draw and lacked the kind of intimidation factor that a side like Italy carries.
However the Danish team are not to be taken lightly. They will go into this leg expecting to book their place in Russia and their confidence is well-placed.
Finishing second in a tough qualifying group to Poland, the Danes were denied an automatic qualifying spot thanks to two back-to-back defeats last October when they were beaten 3-2 away to Poland before suffering what was a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to Montenegro three days later.
That defeat against Montenegro led to a change in approach from manager Age Hareide, and they tweaked things, moving from a passing, possession-first side to one that likes to hit early long balls on the diagonal to their widemen in what is often a 4-3-3 formation. Whether he’ll be able to successfully employ such tactics against a deep sitting Ireland remains to be seen.
The change in approach led to a purple patch for the Danes and they are unbeaten in their nine games since that Montenegro defeat, and hammered group winners Poland 4-0 at home last month.
Christian Eriksen has rightly been identified as the Dane’s main creative threat and the Spurs midfielder is in the form of his life at the moment and against Ireland he’ll sit in the hole behind the frontmen, pulling the strings.
Manager Hareide likes to use big a target-man up front and Andreas Cornelius is often employed in a Jon Walters-like position on the right wing and drifting inside with Nicolai Jorgensen playing through the middle and profiting off his knock-downs. Former Arsenal striker Nicolas Bendtner is also an option for the Danes in that position and while he may not start, will be a danger coming off the bench given his form.
In the centre of midfield the Irish sounding Thomas Delaney looks certain to start alongside William Kvist and Eirksen. Delaney, who is of Irish ancestry made his senior international debut in 2013 and has been one of the best performers in the Bundesliga this season with Werder Bremen.
YELLOW CARD DANGER FOR BOTH TEAMS
Delaney is one of seven Danish players who are a booking away from being suspended for the second leg in Dublin with Eriksen, defender Simon Kjaer and Leicester goalkeeper goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel all walking that disciplinary tightrope along with Andreas Cornelius, Peter Ankersen, Nicolai Jorgensen.
It’s an even bigger issue for Ireland who could conceivably start the game with 10 of their 11 players on the pitch in danger of missing the return leg with a booking.
Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Glenn Whelan, Harry Arter, Aiden McGeady, James McClean and Daryl Murphy, are all a booking away from missing the return leg.
Despite that Robbie Brady, one of the few likely starters, who doesn’t have to worry about picking up a booking, is confident that it won’t change Ireland’s approach.
"There’s a few going into the game tomorrow on yellow card but I don’t think you can concentrate too much on that," he said. "We’ve got a job to do and we’ll focus on that but if we can avoid picking up anymore yellow cards that’ll be good."
VERDICT - FEW THRILLS BUT MAYBE THE RESULT WE NEED
At this stage we know what to expect from Ireland in a game like this. It’ll be 4-5-1 with Murphy or Long up front, a packed midfield and a deep lying defence. Ireland’s primary aim here will be to stop Denmark scoring and if they can, maybe nick something on the break.
The Danes will have to be patient against a side that won’t come out to attack them or leave spaces at the back and the longer the game progresses, the more frustrated they may become, playing into Ireland’s hands.
O’Neill with rightly target Eriksen as the man to stop and could we deploy Whelan as a man-marker given the sole task of frustrating the Spurs man, while in defence Duffy and Clark will have to sharp to deal with aerial balls from midfield
Dead-ball delivery will be crucial for Ireland and it will have to be improved from what we’ve seen of late, with Robbie Brady in particular needing to rediscover the form he showed at the start of the qualifying campaign.
Nevertheless, a result is well within Ireland’s capabilities and if they show the same focus and desire that they displayed in Cardiff, they should be able to hold the hosts to a 0-0 draw and bring them back to Dublin level.
Live coverage of Denmark v Ireland on RTÉ 2 (7.25pm), live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport and live blog on RTÉ.ie from 6pm.