Sunday 24 February 2019

Danish progress makes the Green Army imagine what might have been

World View

Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen

And so, a European team who secured their place at the World Cup finals with a playoff win in Dublin, bore everyone to death but go on to the last 16.

Would things at World Cup 2018 have been any different if the Republic of Ireland, and not Denmark, had taken a place in Group C alongside France, Peru and Australia?

Certainly, yesterday's 0-0 draw between Denmark and France in Moscow brought back memories (and not good ones) of a previous Irish experience at the World Cup finals. That was when Ireland and Holland played out a 1-1 draw in the final game of the group stage in 1990, knowing that the status quo would see both teams progress while Egypt would be gone.

The neutrals in the Moscow crowd yesterday vented their anger at what they'd seen over the previous insipid 90 minutes, the final whistle greeted with boos from Russians and relief from Danish and French fans, glad that it was all over and they were through to the knockout phase.


It took until yesterday, and the 37th game of the World Cup, to throw up the first scoreless draw of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Denmark advance having scored just two goals in three group games, the worst return of goals from any side in the last 16. But would it have been any different with Ireland, a nation who, in 23 matches at a major finals, have only scored more than one goal on one occasion, against Saudi Arabia in 2002?

Would the current Irish side have been greeted more warmly by those who were at the game but were not part of the Green Army?

France now go on to play Argentina while the Danes face up to Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.

The group phase is close to completion, just three days of football left before the knockout stage. Normally this is when good teams are separated by the lucky ones.

France, with 1998 veteran Didier Deschamps at the helm, will look to invoke the spirit of '98 when the French were ordinary in the group phase, came to life at the quarter-final stage and went on to win it. Yet France looked like anything but World Cup champions in their bore draw with a limited but effective Danish side yesterday.

Either Russia or Spain will leave the tournament after 90 minutes in the round of 16. Spain will have to do a lot better than they have to date to get past an energetic host nation still shrouded in doubt over their doping programme.

Can the Danes go further? Without Christian Eriksen they are a very ordinary side. The Spurs man was the difference between Ireland and Denmark in the playoff round, he has yet to take the World Cup by the scruff of the neck and it's doubtful that his shoulders are broad enough to carry a nation, as someone like Cristiano Ronaldo can do.

But the Danes are there, ranked 12th in the world and into the last 16 of the World Cup finals. They are lacking the class of their 1986 side but they've shown grit to get this far, a stage Ireland could also have reached with a fully fit Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady in the side. But is the home nation of Carlsberg good enough to go all the way? Probably not.

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