A string of superb saves from Republic of Ireland keeper Darren Randolph was enough for Martin O’Neill’s men to earn a draw with Denmark in the first leg of their World Cup Qualifying Play-Off in Copenhagen.
The hosts had the better of the play throughout the 90 minutes but came up against a stern Irish defence and were left frustrated when they couldn’t seize the advantage at home.
Both Nations, who looked as even as the eventual scoreline on paper heading into the clash, finished second in Groups D and E, behind Poland and Serbia to earn a spot in Round Two respectively.
The tie itself, now at half-time between the two legs, is looking evenly poised ahead of Tuesday night’s decisive return fixture in Dublin, with a place at Russia 2018 still very much up for grabs.
From the start at The Parken Stadium, Danish Boss Age Hareide decided on five changes from the home Qualifying draw with Romania last month.
In defence, Peter Ankersen, Andreas Bjelland, and Jens Stryger Larsen came in for Henrik Dalsgaard, Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen, and Riza Durmisi while Andreas Cornelius and Nicolai Jorgensen replaced Yussuf Poulsen and Nicklas Bendtner further up the field.
Meanwhile, O’Neill made just one alteration from the Play-Off clinching victory in Wales against their rivals, as youngster Callum O’Dowda took the place of Skipper David Meyler.
Also in the Irish starting Xl was the Cardiff City Stadium match winner James McClean, Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick, his teammate Robbie Brady and Skipper Ciaran Clark.
On a chilly night in The Danish Capital, it would be the home side that threatened the most early on as Randolph was forced into a magnificent double save after just 10 minutes.
Stryger Larsen made a surging run down the left and was picked out only to see his volley palmed away by the Irishman into the path of the former Cardiff City man Cornelius whose effort was also denied by Randolph.
The Danish came forward again shortly after, with Tottenham Hotspur man Christian Eriksen testing Randolph with an effort that was parried to Pione Sisto, who fired agonisingly wide of the bottom right-hand corner.
Then, a rare moment of attacking threat from the visitors, with Cyrus Christie getting the better of Larsen down the right and having his effort saved by Kasper Schmeichel as Hendrick couldn’t muster anything up with the rebound.
Republic would soon be on the front foot yet again, starting the second period as the better Nation, but Brady’s threatening free-kick could not quite be brought under control by Clark.
However, just when it looked like the game was petering out for a goalless draw, Denmark managed to produce one last moment or two of excitement as substitute Poulsen’s header was tipped over by Randolph and then Larsen’s effort deflected just wide by Christie in added time.
But, in the end, both Nations had to settle for a draw in a matchup that many would have been hoping to be a racier encounter.
With the aforementioned return clash at The Aviva Stadium just three days away, yesterday’s draw means that both Managers will need to prepare their men for a winner takes all situation, who will make it to Russia?