Mick McCarthy feels that the Republic of Ireland have every chance of winning two playoff games in the space of six days next March and making Euro 2020 if they can replicate their performance against Denmark tonight.
Ireland failed to get the win that would secure a place in the tournament next summer with Martin Braithwaite putting the visitors in front 15 minutes from time and Matt Doherty setting up a grandstand finish with an equaliser with five minutes still to go.
“Mixed emotions,” said McCarthy afterwards. “Disappointed that we’ve not qualified yet. We’re in the playoffs but I’m immensely proud of the players for their performance and even more so for going one down which was a poor goal to give away.
The permutations are not yet set for the playoffs next year but Ireland could well find themselves having to beat Slovakia away and one of Northern Ireland or Bosnia-Herzegovina at a venue to be determined afterwards if they are to make the finals.
It’s a tall order for a side that failed to beat either Switzerland or Denmark across four games in their qualifying group but McCarthy was bullish when asked about his team’s chances in the play-off lottery when it comes around.
“I’ve got three months to prepare for that,” said McCarthy who insisted he was happy with his team throughout the campaign. “We’ll see who we get and I’ll plan for that when we know. If we play as well as that against other teams and we can beat them.”
McCarthy’s positive take was echoed by his counterpart minutes later. Age Hareide seemed eager to comfort his hosts. “Dublin feels like home,” he joked at one point but he finally seemed to be impressed by Ireland – at the sixth time of asking.
Was this the best they had played across that half-dozen games?
“Yeah I would say that. They did well but we didn’t play well at all. I don’t know what happened. A solid defensive play saw us through the first-half and the second-half we got in front which eased off the pressure. Then they put a lot of pressure on us.
“And it is difficult because they have to throw a lot of players forward and we have the same number defending. You have to gamble with the counter attacks.
That Denmark were off colour shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Playing for a draw may well be the most thankless task in football and the truth is that the Danes did exactly as much as they had and no more to confirm their own place at Euro 2020.
Ireland were unquestionably better than they were last month when drawing in Georgia and losing in Switzerland. But, good? That would be a stretch. Even McCarthy admitted that the one thing that didn’t please him was their play in the final third.
The Republic managed just seven goals across eight games in a group that included Gibraltar. David McGoldrick’s touch and vision helped them put some good moves together here, and Matt Doherty grew as an attacking option as the game went on, but they need to do more.