REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 0
Darren Randolph was the hero and Pione Sisto the villain as the Republic of Ireland scrapped their way to a 0-0 World Cup play-off draw in Denmark.
Randolph produced a fine double save to deny Jens Stryger Larsen and Andreas Cornelius, and then saw Sisto fire wide of an open goal after he had beaten away Christian Eriksen’s long-range effort during a torrid first half.
Ireland, as so often in the past, adopted an ultra-conservative approach which saw them create little of note, but they frustrated the Danes and the majority of a crowd of 36,189 at the Parken Stadium for much of a largely unappetising 90 minutes with a functional display.
The sides will reconvene at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night with a trip to Russia awaiting the victor, although a score draw will be enough for the Danes to snatch the ticket on away goals.
They will do so with none of the 19 men who went into the first leg on a booking having collected another and therefore a ban.
Manager Martin O’Neill sprung a surprise by handing Bristol City winger Callum O’Dowda a rare competitive start for his country – but there was nothing unusual about Ireland’s approach.
With Harry Arter protecting the back four and Daryl Murphy operating as a lone, isolated, striker, the visitors conceded possession and space and challenged their hosts to break them down.
They did so on just two occasions before the break, and both might have resulted in the opening goal had it not been for Randolph’s vigilance.
Denmark skipper Simon Kjaer floated the ball over the top of Cyrus Christie for full-back Larsen to control expertly before firing in a shot from a tight angle which Randolph parried to Cornelius before blocking the striker’s follow-up, after 11 minutes.
The Middlesbrough goalkeeper was called upon once again 12 minutes before the break when, after skipper Ciaran Clark had served up Kasper Schmeichel’s scuffed clearance to Eriksen, the Tottenham playmaker took aim from distance.
Randolph beat away the initial attempt and the home fans rose in anticipation as the ball fell to Sisto, only for the frontman to steer his shot wastefully wide of the far post.
Ireland came close to breaking the deadlock two minutes before half-time when full-back Christie cut inside Larsen on the right and stabbed a shot towards goal – but Schmeichel made an important block.
O’Dowda got his head to a Robbie Brady cross but could not pick out a team-mate after Christie had made a 58th-minute charge down the right – but the traffic was heading largely in the opposite direction and Christie needed treatment after taking a well-struck Larsen shot in the face.
The Republic’s best hope of scoring looked to be a set-piece, and they might have done just that had Clark been able to take Brady’s 67th-minute free-kick in his stride inside the box after it had sailed over Shane Duffy’s head.
Substitute Yussuf Poulsen went close as the home side responded, but in a frenzied conclusion, Shane Duffy headed straight at Schmeichel and Randolph had to tip over a last-gasp Poulsen header.