Northern Ireland keen to go out on high note against Denmark – 5 talking points

Northern Ireland wrap up their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign when Denmark visit Windsor Park on Monday night.

Here the PA news agency looks at the key talking points ahead of the game.

It’s (almost) over

Michael O’Neill File Photo
Michael O’Neill has dealt with a series of setbacks in this qualifying campaign (Liam McBurney/PA)

The good news is that this is the last of Northern Ireland’s Group H fixtures. A campaign which began with such optimism unravelled quickly in the first few games and has never recovered, with seven defeats in nine causing Northern Ireland’s world ranking to drop from 59th to 75th.

Michael O’Neill was clear ahead of the game that it was not as simple as drawing a line and moving on because lessons must be learned, but it will still be welcome to change the narrative of a campaign in which any realistic hope of reaching next year’s finals was gone in by the summer.

Can they end on a high note?

O’Neill said in Finland last week that he and his players would need to look at themselves if they could not take something from at least one of their fixtures against someone other than San Marino, but a 4-0 hiding in Helsinki leaves this match as the final opportunity.

Playing a side ranked 19th in the world and the top seeds in the group is hardly ideal in those circumstances, but Northern Ireland were a tight offside decision away from scoring a late equaliser when they lost 1-0 in Copenhagen in June, so they will take some confidence from that.


Northern Ireland v San Marino – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Group H – Windsor Park
Shea Charles is back in Northern Ireland’s squad following suspension (Niall Carson/PA)

Shea Charles returns from suspension and Paul Smyth is back in the squad following the hamstring injury which prevented him from travelling to Finland.

O’Neill indicated the absence of both players in Helsinki had limited his options not only in terms of personnel but also the shape of his team so their return will be welcome.

O’Neill admitted he needed to consider whether or not he had fielded too many young players at the same time, leaning too heavily on inexperienced players, so any reinforcements will be welcome. However, in keeping with the campaign as a whole there is a fresh injury worry with Daniel Ballard a doubt due to a hamstring problem.

Denmark are through

Denmark’s 2-1 win over Slovenia on Friday night booked their ticket to Euro 2024, meaning neither side has anything too much riding on Monday’s game.

That should in theory benefit Northern Ireland with Denmark no longer desperate for points, but things are not always so simple.

If coach Kasper Hjulmand does choose to make changes, those players who come in will have a point to prove as attention turns to the squad selection for the finals.

Davis back in Belfast

There was a welcome sight at training on Sunday morning as absent captain Steven Davis watched the session from the sidelines.

After his recent spell as interim manager of Rangers, Davis has stepped back from his coaching role to concentrate on his rehabilitation from the knee injury which has sidelined him since December, and O’Neill remains hopeful the 38-year-old can finish his career on the pitch.

In the meantime, his experience in and around the group is invaluable.

“It’s great to see Davo back among the squad,” Paddy McNair said. “It’s great to have him around. When he’s at the hotel he can speak to the younger lads, they can ask him questions and he can pass on his experience.”