The Republic of Ireland battled to a hard-fought draw in Denmark on Saturday evening, meaning the World Cup qualification play off is wide open ahead of Tuesday’s second leg in Dublin.
Goalkeeper Darren Randolph was Ireland’s man of the match as he produced a string of saves to maintain the clean sheet. His team kept up their unbeaten away record in this world cup qualifying campaign despite having just 28% of possession in a defiant performance in Copenhagen. Martin O’Neill said that his side have “it all to play for” on Tuesday night, but they must also be wary of conceding an away goal to the dangerous Danes, which would make their task all the more difficult.
Danish manager Age Hareide had already described Ireland as ‘hard to beat’ prior to the game, and that proved to be the case as his team created several chances but were unable to find the breakthrough. Danish fans will have painful memories of their defeat to Sweden over two legs in a play off for Euro 2016 just two years ago, and they will fear that history is set to repeat itself for the second major tournament in a row. By contrast, Ireland have won three of their last four play offs for international competitions – the only one they lost was due to Thierry Henry’s infamous handball for France in the 2010 World Cup play off.
On Monday night Sweden travel to Italy with the aim of protecting the slender 1-0 lead they secured in Stockholm on Friday night. Jakob Johansson scored the all-important goal that leaves the Azzurri on the verge of going out, and the second leg at the San Siro in Milan will be a nerve-jangling event. It would be fair to say that Italy underperformed, but Sweden’s high-tempo game made it difficult for them throughout. An ill-tempered match saw plenty of tough challenges, and Swedish striker Marcus Berg summed it up after the game by saying, “I knew there would be war tonight and it will be a damn war on Monday.”
Ireland v Denmark
We suggested that Ireland were underestimated by the bookmakers on Saturday night, and so it proved as they earned a 0-0 draw to help us collect on the double chance bet. The Irish are again very good odds to win the home leg in Dublin, but odds of +120 with Bet365 about them qualifying are more than acceptable.
O’Neill summed up the situation perfectly after the game when he said of the second leg, “We might have to score a couple because Denmark are capable of scoring”. That demonstrates the quandary facing the Republic of Ireland boss – an away goal for Denmark would require two Irish goals. While he rightly stated that Ireland will need to be more creative in Dublin, we don’t expect to see his team going hell for leather for goals when conceding would have such ramifications. A more pragmatic approach is likely, where Ireland’s ability to defend will be relied upon once more.
Only a 0-0 draw would lead to extra-time, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if that were the result in what is a finely balanced match. Ireland’s excellent away form is not matched by home form, where they were held by Austria and beaten by Serbia in two of their latest World Cup qualifiers. Better results included a 2-0 win over Moldova and a 0-0 draw with Wales.
Denmark have won their last three away internationals, beating Montenegro, Armenia and Kazakhstan, but prior to that they were held to draws by Romania and Czech Republic. In Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen the Danes probably have the stand out player among the two squads, and one of Ireland’s key tasks will to keep the playmaker quiet – as they did so admirably in Copenhagen. In a very tight game it may pay to side with Ireland on a night where home advantage can help them claim that place in Russia.
Italy v Sweden
It’s a similar scenario for Italy, where home advantage can see them get the better of Sweden. The Italians are odds of -111 with Bet365 to qualify for the World Cup.
Those are longer odds that on Italy to win the game over 90 minutes – something they will have to do in order to qualify as Sweden are a goal to the good after the first leg. The Qualification bet strikes us as the better play. If Italy win 1-0 the game will go to extra-time and in that scenario, we would expect the Italians to go on and win the tie.
There is the concern from Italy’s point of view that Sweden will grab an away goal, and in that case, Italy will need to score three to book their place in Russia. However, with six clean sheets in the last seven home internationals, the Italians will be confident that they can keep the Swedish at bay in Milan.
Sweden’s away record doesn’t inspire confidence either – they’ve recently lost on the road to Bulgaria and Netherlands in world cup qualifiers and were held to a 1-1 draw by Norway in a friendly. Once again we expect a tight match, but home advantage could be key for Italy and they are fancied to take the qualification spot.
Ireland to qualify
Tuesday 14th November, 19:45 GMT
Italy to qualify
Monday 13th November, 19:45 GMT
Once or twice per month we will provide you with the latest sports tips and keep you updated about the biggest events.