Northern Ireland were denied the most dramatic late equaliser by VAR as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Denmark at Parken.
Kasper Hjulmand’s side had dominated proceedings and deservedly taken the lead courtesy of Jonas Wind shortly after half-time, but, seconds from the final whistle, West Ham teenager Callum Marshall found the net with an instinctive finish on his senior debut, which looked to have secured a point for the visitors.
However, after reviewing the situation for around five minutes, VAR Tomasz Kwiatkowski signalled to Daniel Stefanski that Jonny Evans had come from an offside position when Jordan Thompson lifted the ball into the box before he helped it on to Marshall and the goal was disallowed.
As a result of their narrow victory, Denmark climb to the top of Euro 2024 Qualifying Group H, level on points with Finland, Kazakhstan and Slovenia, while Northern Ireland stay fifth on three points.
How Northern Ireland came so close to a valuable point
In Denmark’s last qualifying match in March, Kasper Hjulmand’s side took a 2-0 lead against Kazakhstan and then conceded three goals in the final 17 minutes to fall to a shock 3-2 defeat. There was a palpable sense of embarrassment.
From the off, it was clear the Danish fans were hell-bent on seeing the frustrations of three months earlier taken out on a Northern Ireland side weakened, on paper, at least.
Owing to injuries, Michael O’Neill named teenagers Conor Bradley, Shea Charles and Isaac Price in his side – the first time the Green and White Army had done so in over 12 years – with only four of the 11 in the starting lineup having earned over 30 caps.
Regular jeers and whistles punctuated the first half, particularly when the hosts were not seen to be showing sufficient attacking intent or when the visitors attempted to slow the tempo. For the most part, Denmark did take the game to their opponents, but the openings they created were well dealt with.
- Michael O’Neill was unable to call on several players for June’s qualifying games and, as a result, the Northern Ireland team looked a tad less experienced. Sunderland’s Trai Hume, 21, earned his third cap, as did Isaac Price, 19, who has just left Everton for Standard Liege after 13 years at Goodison Park. Man City’s Shea Charles earned cap number seven.
- Jonny Evans (100), Paddy McNair (60), George Saville (44) and Bailey Peacock-Farrell (37) were the only players in the starting line-up to have earned more than 30 caps for their country.
- Denmark’s starting line-up boasted its usual wealth of experience, with Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen, Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen and Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg representing the Premier League.
- Rasmus Hojlund, 20 – a reported target for United boss Erik ten Hag – led the line for Kasper Hjulmand’s side and earned only his fifth senior cap.
Arguably the best chance of the half came when Crystal Palace’s Joachim Anderson was allowed to step forward from defence and send a shot straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Christian Eriksen fired an audacious free-kick from 30 yards over the bar, too.
But it was in the second minute of the second half where they finally made their dominance count. A teasing ball in from the left was half-cleared by Ciaron Brown, but only as far as Wind, who chested the ball down and guided it in at the near post.
Northern Ireland showed glimpses of what they are capable of after the break, perhaps most notably when Price chased a long ball down the left, drove into the box with real menace and drew a marvellous save from Kasper Schmeichel.
Nine minutes after his introduction to senior football, Marshall reacted quickest to help Evans’ header over the line after Jordan Thompson had floated the ball into the penalty area from the right flank. He leapt over the advertising hoardings and celebrated with the travelling fans, elated.
But ecstasy soon turned to agony as, after an extraordinarily long VAR review, the 18-year-old was robbed of his moment, meaning O’Neill’s men left without a point.
O’Neill: VAR not there to disallow goals like that – the decision is a mystery to me
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill speaking to Viaplay:
“VAR is not there to disallow goals like that, it’s there to disallow clear and obvious things that the referee may miss. The referee didn’t see that. So we go back and look at when the kick was taken and it’s not clear in any of the footage that I’ve seen that Jonny is offside. Clearly when the ball arrives at him, he’s not offside, so why you would go and look for that is a mystery to me.
“We had six U21 players on the pitch tonight playing against a very strong team and, at times, you saw that in the physicality and duels in the game. We lost a poor goal, but what we did do brilliantly was we allowed Denmark very few opportunities in the first half.
“Having lost the poor goal, I thought we were brilliant because we stayed in the game. We saw the best of Evans, Saville, McNair and the younger boys, who stayed in the game and didn’t allow themselves to go further behind. We knew that if we could get to that point in the game, the last 15-20 minutes, then we would possibly be able to create an opportunity – and we did that.
“It’s very harsh, I think, that we’ve been deprived of a point because of a decision like that. We were deprived of a point against Finland after a very borderline decision, so you’d say we feel a little bit hard done by at the minute.
“This is a young team. We’re not thinking about qualification or anything at this minute in time. We’ve really been unfortunate during this trip with injuries, but what we’ve got is a great spirit in the group of players, brilliant performances from our more senior players, but the young boys were terrific as well. We’ll go and try to win the game [against Kazakhstan] on Monday night.”
Northern Ireland host Kazakhstan at Windsor Park in their next Euro 2024 Qualifying Group H fixture, while Denmark travel to Ljubljana to face Slovenia. Both matches will take place on Monday June 19; kick-off 7.45pm.