Ireland hold Denmark to scoreless draw as Obafemi debuts
Martin O’Neill’s team go another 90 minutes without a goal in final Nations League game
Ireland’s Michael Obafemi and Andreas Bjelland of Denmark in action in Aarhus. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Denmark 0 Ireland 0
This was the sort of game that the Nations League was supposed to spare us - with one team manifestly much better than the other but not quite showing enough urgency to put their opponents away. Denmark will wonder quite how they failed to score a winner. For Ireland, drawing blanks has started to seem like par for the course.
Michael O’Neill said on Thursday night that the only positive for his opposite number then was that the Republic of Ireland had not lost the game. It was much the same here, albeit against better opponents, and if Michael Obafemi goes on to fulfil his promise then it will be remembered fondly as his first international match at senior level.
With four months to go before the start of the European Championship campaign proper, though, and O’Neill managing only to steady the ship rather than show meaningful signs of turning it around, it still might prove to have been the manager’s last.
Ireland, of course, made it through the night without conceding and if that was the limit of O’Neill’s ambitions, as it might very reasonably have been in different circumstances, then the northerner had some small cause for satisfaction. The bar has certainly been set low of late.
Darren Randolph did well enough to get down to a Peter Ankersen shot and Seamus Coleman prevented Nicolai Jorgensen turning the loose ball home not long before the end of the first half but for stretches the Irish got by well enough in a densely packed area, and just in front of their own area. Beyond that there was not much to mention at all.
That Ankersen shot was as much as the Danes had to show for their early dominance and even by the end they had managed just four shots on target for their 70 per cent possession.
Like Hareide, but for different reasons, O’Neill made five changes and Aiden O’Brien replaced Callum Robinson in the lone striker’s role. He is a different sort of player but his problem was the same. Hovering, for the most part, in the space between the Danish centre backs and holding midfielder Lasse Schone, he waited patiently for his moment to come but the Ajax player mopped up most of what came their way then used the ball well while the Millwall man was let down by his first touch or footing on the couple of occasions that things looked remotely promising.
Callum O’Dowda was supposed to be providing support to the 25 year-old but like everyone else he got sucked into a defensive effort that little to hinder the Danes before the final 20 metres. Christian Eriksen only lasted until half time but did rather well until then, playing the role of chief engineer of a siege in which Enda Stevens had clearly been identified as the point most likely to give way.
When Ireland had the ball they worked hard to keep it and more than once they managed to string together a numerically respectable sequence of passes. What they persistently struggled to do was make territorial gains and perhaps their longest of the night ended with Kevin Long, every single Dane in front of him, hoofing it hopefully into the space beyond Robbie Brady who, realistically, had absolutely no chance of getting onto it.
Brady was one of two players whose return to this side was supposed to impact positively on the performances but he made little enough difference here, producing really poor touches in play on a couple of occasions and failing to make most of the very few free kicks that Ireland won in promising positions.
Coleman, the other player whose absence early on has been identified as key factor in the team’s poor run over the past year - one win, four draws and four defeats in 2018 - spent a portion of his night, like those inside him, acting as a human shield.
In the second half a sustained Irish effort appeared to be a sustained effort to push things a little farther forward met with some marginal success. Coleman got to cause a problem or two down the right of the Danish area but with limited options could not pick out a white shirt inside it. Robinson and Ronan Curtis replaced Brady and O’Brien but the underlying pattern remained the same with Age Hareide’s still looking by far the more likely one to actually score.
Nicolai Jorgensen should have after dispossessing Richard Keogh but somehow hit the post, Poulsen wildly mishit an attempted volley and left back Jonas Knudsen curled a shot narrowly around Randolph’s far post.
At the end, there was audible booing from the home support. What the Aviva stadium would give just now, though, for a controlled performance like the one the crowd here had witnessed from their side. Denmark - Hareide noted afterwards - must find a way to score against teams that come to defend in 2019. While putting the ball in the net is just one of the many problems the Ireland manager needs to address next year.
DENMARK: Ronnow (Eintracht Frankfurt); Ankersen (Copenhagen), Jorgensen (Huddersfield), Bjelland (Copenhagen), Knudsen (Ipswich Town); Schone (Ajax), Eriksen (Tottenham, Lerager 46), Hojbjerg (Southampton); Poulsen (Leipzig, Gytkjaer 64), Jorgensen (Feyenoord), Braithwaite (Middlesbrough, Cornelius 78).
REP OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Keogh (Derby), Duffy (Brighton), Long (Burnley); Coleman (Everton), Christie (Fulham), Hendrick (Burnley), Brady (Burnley, Robinson 65), Stevens (Sheffield United); O’Dowda (Bristol City, Obafemi 80); O’Brien (Millwall, Curtis 64). Booked: Christie. Referee: Aliyar Aghayev (Azer).