Final warning: 10 Ireland players a booking away from suspension
Denmark also have nine players who would miss second leg if they pick up a yellow card
David Meyler is booked for a challenge on Wayne Hennessey at the end of Ireland’s win over Wales - ruling him out of the playoffs. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
As improbable as might have seemed during the fledgling stages of Ireland’s World Cup qualification campaign, David Meyler’s absence will be keenly felt against Denmark on Saturday night.
Deployed by Martin O’Neill in a holding midfield role, Meyler was a destructive presence against Serbia and Wales, screening his back four superbly and providing a reliable link between the defence and midfield.
However, a late foul on Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in the dying embers of Ireland’s 1-0 win in Cardiff earned him a yellow card, thus ruling him out of Saturday’s first leg in Copenhagen.
Glenn Whelan is set to replace Meyler in Martin O’Neill’s starting XI - but the Hull City midfielder will be available for next Tuesday’s second leg at the Aviva Stadium.
It remains to be seen, though, who will be free to line-up alongside Meyler for next week’s final act of the qualification campaign.
Indeed, a grand total of 10 Ireland players head into Saturday night’s clash a booking away from a one-game suspension.
Those walking a disciplinary tightrope in Copenhagen include: Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, James McClean, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Daryl Murphy, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady, Shane Duffy and Harry Arter.
Essentially, the spine of Ireland’s team.
To have any chance against the Danes Ireland can’t afford to be anything other than full-blooded at the Parken Stadium.
However, they also can’t afford to take to the Aviva pitch next Tuesday night without a raft of their key players.
This is something Roy Keane - who inspired Manchester United to the 1999 European Cup final knowing he would miss the game through suspension - alluded to earlier in the week.
But he insisted Ireland’s player shouldn’t let it play on their minds too much: “I don’t think that would be a conversation I’d be having with players - I’ve spoken to James McClean before and he’s done the opposite!
“I know players look at me and think `we’re not really going to listen to you on that aspect of the game' but that’s where the experience comes in.
“The players know what’s at stake. Robbie Brady got a card before for kicking a ball away and that’s where it’s a bit silly. It goes back to trusting the players and if a player kicks the ball away, he deserves to be suspended.”
And it’s not just the Irish players who will need to stay on the right side of referee on Saturday, with nine Danes a booking away from suspension.
Christian Eriksen is among those on his last warning - as well as Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Thomas Delaney, Nicolai Jorgensen, Viktor Fischer, Yussuf Poulsen, Andreas Cornelius and Peter Ankersen.
Saturday’s clash will presumably be a cordial affair, but if it gets heated plenty of stellar names could be mere interested observers in Dublin next week.