Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland: Group D deadlock?
Background image: Martin Kolbert, CC BY-SA 3.0
Cold November nights were made for this. The Irish, Danish and Swiss are poised to take Group D right down to the wire. All three remain in the balance to qualify for this coming summer's European Championships. More to the point, all three remain at risk to fail.
Two of the three can look forward to television coverage, exciting PR campaigns and even tournament sticker books. One will sit at home, miserable, wishing they were on the telly, appearing in those fun little adverts, and posing for the sticker books.
Presently in the pole, the Boys in Green have played seven from their eight matches. With the Danes level and the Swiss a point behind while each hold a game in hand, their position flatters to deceive.
Mick McCarthy opts for a grounded approach in his second tenure as Ireland manager. His team struggle for possession and lack creativity. They’ve scored fewer goals than fourth-place Georgia. Defence is their strength, keeping it straight at the back, conceding just four times during their seven matches.
Ireland’s position could easily transcend into darkness before their last match. Denmark and Switzerland play their seventh matches first. The Danes have it easy with Gibraltar visiting. Switzerland face a sterner test when hosting Georgia, who sit three points behind them. Still, you expect both to claim all three points at home. The Irish could drop to third before Matchday 10, hoping they can at least avoid any injuries while kicking it about in a friendly with New Zealand.
It isn't a complete doomsday scenario. McCarthy holds a lifeline thanks to the Republic's prior draw with Denmark. Groups placement isn't decided by goal difference. The first tie break is head-to-head meetings with away goals factoring. Winning again would lift Ireland back above Christian Eriksen and co due to Shane Duffy’s equalizer at Parken in June. Anything other than a victory leaves their fate in other nations' hands.
Christian Eriksen, Yussuf Poulsen and Kasper Schmeichel brighten an exceptional time for Danish football. Thanks to the trio, the Danes lost only one game in 90 minutes over three years, a friendly no less. Eriksen amassed 19 goals in that span putting him on course to become the all-time Danish scorer.
For now, however, the Spurs midfielder must get the Danish Dynamite into Euro 2020. Victory over Gibraltar lays all the pressure on Ireland’s shoulders with the Danes in the driving seat when they arrive at the Aviva Stadium.
Denmark manager, Age Hareide will target two wins during the break, even though a result in Dublin puts his side through. He doesn't want Switzerland pipping him to group honours and a more favourable draw in the finals.
Knowing the Irish already possess an away goal, Hareide may attack the game to force Ireland into a more open style at which they do not excel. An open affair favours the more enterprising Danes. Nothing would make the boss happier than replicating their empathic 5-1 win in the World Cup playoff qualifier.
The Swiss start the international break with a lower points total than their two rivals but face neither. Wins against Georgia and Gibraltar could lift them to the top of the group. In the corresponding ties against both nations, Switzerland kept clean sheets.
Lower calibre opposition should see Vladimir Petkovic take six points, raising them to 17 points. With the Danes and Irish pitted against one another, it's impossible for both to surpass that total. Switzerland's Euro2020 future is firmly in their grasp.
Ultimately the Irish must sit and wait for the dust to settle. The Danes can knock as many as they like as past Gibraltar to reach the 15-point mark, leaving it all for the Irish to do. Meanwhile, Switzerland should be home and dry with the easiest two games to play.