The Republic of Ireland will attempt to bring a morale-boosting conclusion to a dreadful 2018 when they complete their Nations League campaign in Denmark.
Martin O’Neill’s men have already been relegated to League C after losing home and away to Wales and drawing 0-0 with the Danes in Dublin, but arrive in Aarhus desperate to improve upon a return of just one win in their eight fixtures to date during the calendar year.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the game.
All our yesterdays
Between September 2015 and November the following year, Ireland played 19 games under O’Neill, winning 10 and drawing five more as they qualified for and excelled at the Euro 2016 finals before launching their World Cup campaign in positive fashion. Of the 19 games since, they have won just four and drawn a further seven, and their eight defeats include a 5-1 humbling at home by Denmark and a 4-1 demolition job by Ryan Giggs’ youthful Wales side in Cardiff. The trend is not promising.
Where has it all gone wrong?
O’Neill has been unfortunate in that time has caught up with some of Ireland’s longest-serving and most dependable performers with Shay Given, John O’Shea and Robbie Keane among those to have retired from international football – in Given’s case, for the second time – since he took the job. In addition, he has had to do without Euro 2016 stars Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady for extended periods through injury, while Jeff Hendrick, who also shone in France, has struggled to reproduce that form on a sustained basis since. O’Neill has blooded a new generation of players and adopted a different defensive system, to date with decidedly mixed results.
Looking for a spark
The Republic’s inability to find the back of the net with any regularity has piled the pressure on the men at the back to keep clean sheets, and they have become far too reliant on defender Shane Duffy’s ability to get on the end of set-pieces. Wes Hoolahan’s invention is no longer within O’Neill’s armoury, leaving Brady, James McClean and Callum O’Dowda attempting to provide a supply line to a pool of strikers with limited international experience.
Ireland and Denmark could be forgiven for being sick of the sight of each other. Monday night’s game will be the fourth time they have met in a little over 12 months, all in competitive fixtures. The Republic’s 0-0 World Cup play-off draw in Copenhagen was a study in resilience, their 5-1 humiliation in the return a sobering experience. Last month’s 0-0 Nations League draw in Dublin was nondescript and both managers will be hoping for significantly more from their respective teams this time around.
Oba to you, Michael?
O’Neill has spent much of his time at the helm ruing the fact that he did not inherit record scorer Keane at his peak, and his search for a replacement is ongoing. Hours before Thursday’s drab 0-0 friendly draw with Northern Ireland, he received a boost when teenager Michael Obafemi indicated his desire to play for the Republic rather than England or Nigeria. The Southampton striker is only 18 and has very little senior football under his belt, but a first appearance in Aarhus might provide a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.