Opinion

Mick McCarthy said beforehand he’d be delighted with a draw away to Denmark as the Republic of Ireland came through their toughest examination yet in Euro 2020 qualifying with what could prove a valuable point. Although falling behind to substitute Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s header in Copenhagen with 15 minutes left, the Irish snatched a share of the spoils courtesy of Shane Duffy. They followed that with a 2-0 win over Gibraltar to leave them unbeaten with 10 points from a possible 12 at the top of Euro 2020 qualifying Group D.

Bookmakers have been somewhat lukewarm in their reaction to pinching a point off the Danes, however, and that gives patriotic Irish punters some value in the markets. The Republic are now 4/1 to win the group in the latest international football betting on Euro 2020 qualifying. They have certainly started the group well as they have only dropped two points at the halfway stage, but they are yet to play Switzerland and have only faced Denmark once.

Whilst any opposition that has games in hand must be respected, there is also a sense that bookies are underestimating Ireland. They have the points on the board rather than games in hand like Switzerland. A crunch clash between the two in Dublin takes place on 5 September where the Swiss could kick off six points behind Ireland. The onus will be on the visitors to take the game to their hosts.

During his first spell in charge, McCarthy famously took the Republic to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea reaching the tournament via the play-offs. Unlike that vintage, this Ireland side lacks star power.

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There is no prolific goalscorer like Robbie Keane available to McCarthy. Southampton striker Shane Long boasts an international record more akin to Niall Quinn.

Midfield is nothing like as deep with fewer players proven at Premier League level compared to the 2002 World Cup. At least there is still quality at full-back through Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty, though much like fellow Celtic nation Scotland with Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, it’s a shame that two top players occupy the same areas at club level.

The upshot of comparing Ireland then and now is McCarthy will arguably have done a better job in getting them to Euro 2020 than he did back in the early 2000s when steering them to the World Cup. More of the options open to him should be playing Premier League football come the new club season after Aston Villa and Sheffield United earned promotion from the EFL Championship. Provided they are allowed to test themselves at that level, then that can only benefit Ireland.

Expanding the Euros to include 24 teams certainly helps football nations like Ireland who found it tough to qualify when it was limited to 16. Their excellent start on a potential path to Euro 2020 has left them very much in the driving seat and their destiny in their own hands.