There’s nothing like a World Cup summer when your country is taking part. Nothing.
There an aura of excitement that just about permeates every nook and cranny of the country. Flags go up everywhere, the pubs are packed and everyone is talking football and delighted they won’t have to face those morose clouds that seem to hang over nations that have missed out.
Denmark and the Republic of Ireland have been forced to endure sitting on the sidelines for years now. Denmark last made the World Cup in 2010, while the Irish haven’t made it since 2002.
Both nations are ravenous for it. Both nations have a chance. But only one shall enjoy basking in those sweet rays of football sunshine in Russia come June. And the battle starts tomorrow with the first leg at Telia Parken.
Denmark has the pedigree
Thanks to a strong late run in qualifying, Denmark is ranked ahead of Ireland in the FIFA rankings, but when it comes down to a winner-takes-all showdown like this, anything can happen.
On paper, the Danes should be considered favourites, with a host of players turning out for teams in the top leagues in England, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands. In fact, 21 of Denmark’s squad play in the top division of a country, with only three players turning out in a lower league.
Meanwhile, only ten of Ireland’s squad play in a top flight, with 16 earning their wages in a lower league – the vast majority doing so in the hard-nosed English Championship.
The yellow card peril
Ireland and Denmark have both had to contend with injuries and bans – particularly David Meyler’s one-match ban will be hard felt by the Irish, as will the absence of the injured James McCarthy. Denmark’s concern is primarily with their full backs, as Riza Durmisi and Henrik Dalsgaard are out through injury.
Another issue that might come into play is yellow cards as both teams have scores of players who are one booking away from missing the second leg in Dublin.
Christian Eriksen, Thomas Delaney and Kasper Schmeichel are among the key players in the danger zone for the Danes while James McClean, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark are among those under pressure for Ireland.
Strong in spirit
Furthermore, the Danes no longer need to contend with the likes of Roy and Robbie Keane, Dennis Irwin, Shay Given or (praise Jaysus) Paul McGrath, but that fighting spirit is an element to the Irish team that will never retire, particularly as rabid Roy is still in the team as a coach.
That undying attitude coupled with coach Martin O’Neil’s uncanny ability to strategise from the bench means the Danes will have to evoke the very best impression of their Viking forefathers to match the Irish battlers.
Thousands are sailing
But the Irish have another card to play, and it’s the hordes who are upon us now.
From Cork to Dunfanaghy, they will be descending by the thousands on Copenhagen, green and white writhing masses brandishing their pints of Guinness, chanting those auld jovial shanties and lambasting Thierry Henry for his swindlers’ hands in 2009.
The Irish fans, arguably the best in the world, will be piling into the Danish capital in the hope of watching the game – some 10,000 strong are expected to turn up with many not fortunate enough to have tickets to the match.
But fret not Irish brethren, there are plenty of venues showing the match.
Aside from the big-screen showing at City Hall, the Irish pubs in the city are well braced to meet the influx of fans – from the The Globe and The Dubliner to Kennedy’s and The Old Irish Pub, they’re all stocked up and ready to go.
The good news for the Irish fans is that the Danish fans are a friendly gregarious bunch. Known as the ‘Roligans’ (‘Calm-igans’), they are always eager to join in the shenanigans with a cheery drink and a bit of banter.
So sláinte! And listen to Denmark’s iconic football tune below (you’ll likely hear it tomorrow somewhere it you venture outside the Irish pubs).