The 13th and last European place for next summer’s World Cup will be on the line in Dublin on Tuesday night as the Republic of Ireland go head to head with Denmark. Saturday’s goalless draw in Copenhagen makes the Scandinavian outfit clear favourites to qualify for the World Cup, but how do the people on the street feel about the crucial showdown on the Emerald Isle?
Most of the people passing by in Ayr’s town centre seem to be rooting for the boys in green, even if only because they are in need of a team to root for in Russia following Scotland’s failure to qualify for yet another major tournament. Nonetheless, the overall opinion seems to be in agreement with the bookmakers’ perception of the outcome, with Denmark being touted as favourites by most. “Yeah, I hope Ireland win. Italy are normally my team when Scotland aren’t at a tournament but they won’t play either so I need someone to support. And it can’t be England.”, said Scott.
It is a sentiment echoed to a lesser extent by Andrew. “I don’t really mind to be honest. If you pushed me I would just about rather see Ireland progress but I cannot see them making it past Denmark. It would not be the same as seeing Scotland at a World Cup, to be honest with you, but if I had to choose I’d wish that Ireland won tonight.”
The only person we spoke to that expressed an altogether different opinion was Craig. “No, I would not want them to win. I do not see how anyone could support a team with James McClean in it, and I do not like Martin O’Neill much either. I hope Denmark win.”
It is easy to see why the Danish side are branded favourites. Ireland were unable to create many chances in the first leg. They had goalkeeper Darren Randolph to thank for a series of excellent saves that enabled them to come away with a 0-0 draw from a game in which they only had 28% of possession. Apart from a big chance late on in the game they never looked like getting the crucial away goal, so anything apart from a home win will result in elimination.
There is an element of hope for the Republic: they have proven themselves very capable of surviving challenging situations. Few would have thought they would end up making these play-offs in the first place when they had to go to Wales for the final group game in desperate need of a victory. They emerged victorious in Cardiff, just like they had done at EURO 2016 when Italy stood between them and the knock-out phase.
Sixteen years have passed since Ireland last had the chance to shine on the world’s biggest football stage. A team carried by men like Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Matt Holland got out of a tough group only to be cruelly eliminated on penalties by Spain. It is now time for Robbie Brady, Harry Arter and Jeff Hendrick to follow their example.