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Tuesday 22 May 2018

Let's go for it in the first leg

Ireland’s Shane Long (left) and Shane Duffy are pictured in training ahead of tomorrow night’s World Cup play-off first leg against Denmark in Copenhagen.
Ireland’s Shane Long (left) and Shane Duffy are pictured in training ahead of tomorrow night’s World Cup play-off first leg against Denmark in Copenhagen.

I know that Shane Long is desperate to score a goal, any sort of goal. And tomorrow night in Denmark is the stage for Shane, and Ireland, to move closer to the World Cup finals as the away game is an opportunity that the team just cannot throw away.

The tie is over two legs but you don't really get a second chance, as we found out against France in 2009

It's a big call for Martin O'Neill in Denmark tomorrow. But Shane Long has to start.

I would always have Shane in the team: because of the way he plays for Ireland, he gives you more than goals, a lot more. He is going through an awful time of it now in terms of scoring, to go 28 games without a goal would hurt any striker, but I'd have no worries about Shane.

Strikers are judged on their goals but Shane has something else, his work-rate is phenomenal, hassling and harrying people. I know as a defender there are times you just want to clear the ball up into the corner and Shane will chase down balls, work their defenders, he will make a run that occupies two defenders and that clears space for something else to happen.

He has played in so many games and missed chances, but it will come for him, he just needs to smack one in, like he did against Germany in Dublin, and it all starts to flow, if he scores tomorrow night I am sure he will score again in the home leg.

We need to score over in Denmark. I think it will be harder for us to score at home, that's been the case for a while, we will be set up as solid as we can but we will have a plan for what to do with the ball when we are in good positions, players breaking quickly like James McClean and Shane Long.

Frighten

When we get it, just go, don't look back, just go for it and it we can do that a couple of times that will frighten Denmark.

A play-off game is very different to group matches. In a group situation you just have to be one of the two best teams from six or seven, but here it's one-on-one.

And the first game is huge. You can't get drawn into a situation of thinking 'we will just get the first leg out of the way and we can sort them out in Dublin'. It could all be too late, as we found out in the France play-off in 2009.

In the first leg, at Croke Park, we let it bypass us, almost. We didn't put enough chances together, didn't play well enough to win the game and got beaten 1-0, it was all a bit flat.

Then you realise: this is the last chance, this is everything, we have to go out there, perform and leave everything you have out on the pitch. I wish we'd done that in the first leg but it was too late by the time of the second leg as we'd have struggled to beat France 2-0 away, it was that first game that let us down.

And for tomorrow, Ireland can't be lulled into a false sense of security where you think 'we'll get away from here and do them in Dublin', it won't work like that.

Denmark will be going out to win the first game and will also have confidence that they can come to Dublin and do well.

Our results haven't been amazing at home so we need to do everything in our power to get a positive result in Copenhagen. And for me, a positive result is a score draw, I'd be delighted with that.

The way we play, we are not very creative so when we play at home teams don't have to attack us, in the group stages teams can come to Dublin, sit in and take a point, we'd be seen as one the better sides in the group so teams are happy to get a draw away to Ireland.

We find it tough, when we have a bit more possession, to open teams up. When we play away, we are on the other side of the coin where teams come at us, they think they can beat us but defensively we are very strong, and we do have a bit of quality when we have some space.

You could see that in Cardiff, we were harrying their players to get the ball and got the goal, if we can create more situations like that, we will do well.

There is a real danger in focusing all our attention on one man, like Eriksen, and forgetting about the rest. They do have real quality in their squad, I saw Pione Sisto play for Celta Vigo against Manchester United in the Europa League last year and he was really impressive, he's a player who can cut inside and he's not afraid to shoot.

If you take your eye off him, I am sure Eriksen would be happy to get all the attention if someone else, like Sisto, gets the goal and the glory.

The way Denmark have played, they can score goals but a weak link is Simon Kjaer at the back. I saw him play for Sevilla against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League and he was really poor, if you harry him and put him under pressure you can force him into a mistake.

I know the yellow card situation, 10 players on a booking, is a concern but you can't go into tomorrow's game thinking about the second leg.

I don't know if Martin or Roy will mention it but as a player, it goes without saying. You know that if you are going to take a yellow card, it has to be worth it. In a game like this you just can't get a booking for a dive, or moaning at the referee, or kicking the ball away, silly things.

That's where your experience comes in. You can't worry about it, you can't go out there being fearful of a yellow and missing the second leg, whatever happens, happens, and you can deal with suspensions after the fact.

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