The end of the World: Republic of Ireland's dreams of a trip to Russia shattered by Denmark
World Cup 2018 Qualifying play-off, second leg: Republic of Ireland 1 Denmark 5
THIS is what happens when a football match breaks out. The Republic of Ireland simply couldn’t compete as their World Cup dream was smashed into a million pieces by ruthless Denmark.
They weren’t just beaten in Dublin last night – they were annihilated.
It was the kind of abject performance that strikes at the very heart of Martin O’Neill’s playing philosophy and the team’s desperately primitive approach in trying to squeeze into next summer’s World Cup finals.
Hearts, guts and determination can take you so far – but confronted with the same desire and more quality, Ireland’s shortcomings were cruelly exposed.
It might have been deadlock in Copenhagen three nights ago, but it was only a matter of time before the second leg opened up. And when it did, the imperturbable Christian Eriksen took control and bagged a wonderful hat-trick.
The 25-year-old was kept reasonably quiet in the first leg.
He didn’t have room to breathe in the Telia Parken Stadium against a heavily fortified Irish defence.
But when the space eventually arrived the Spurs playmaker took full advantage.
His three finishes – one in the first half and two in the second period – were works of art.
Unlike Bosnia two years ago, the Danes showed their mettle too.
They absorbed Ireland’s physical challenge; they didn’t collapse under its intimidating weight. And when they came through that test their greater talent shone through.
After the first leg, the Danes were deemed a slightly better version of the Republic of Ireland.
Now, after claiming an emphatic 5-1 second leg victory to book their World Cup finals place, there is a serious gulf in class between the sides.
The Danes, led by the fleet-footed Eriksen, were sensational.
They produced a master-class in short passing, composure under pressure and finishing.
And yet, the visitors were rocked by Shane Duffy’s opening goal.
Or so the packed Aviva assumed.
Denmark’s response was to play quicker, more incisive, more daring football and it paid rich dividends.
They fell behind after six minutes, but drew level in the 29th minute courtesy of a clumsy own goal from Cyrus Christie – and three minutes later the Danes were in front following the first of three divine interventions from Eriksen.
With the visitors leading 2-1, O’Neill’s side needed two goals to pull the game out of the fire. But, in truth, they never looked like achieving it.
Eriksen scored two more sublime goals in the 63rd and 74th minutes before Nicklas Bendtner thumped home a 90th minute penalty to complete the rout.
One thing the Irish media and Republic of Ireland supporters have learned since O’Neill took over four years ago is that it’s pointless trying to second guess the manager’s starting line-ups because you’ll be wrong every time.
Most observers expected Shane Long to start the first leg in Copenhagen to try and take advantage of Denmark’s perceived lack of pace in the centre of their defence. Wrong.
Thirty-four-year-old Daryl Murphy got the nod but looked leggy from the early stages.
Given the three-day turnaround it was inconceivable the Nottingham Forest striker would keep his place. But he did and Long was held in reserve again.
Age Hareide made two changes to the Danish side that failed to break down the Irish three nights earlier.
Yussuf Poulsen, who impressed as a second half substitute in the first leg, took over from Andreas Cornelius to partner Nicolai Jorgensen in the visitors’ attack and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen came in at right back for Peter Ankersen.
The Republic couldn’t have got off to a better start in last night’s pulsating second leg.
Big Shane Duffy, a constant thorn in the side of opposition defences, opened the scoring with a flicked header from Robbie Brady’s free-kick on the halfway line.
Striker Nicolai Jorgensen spooned the ball up in the air and with Duffy prowling in the Danish penalty area he rose like a salmon to beat Kasper Schmeichel.
The Aviva Stadium erupted. Six minutes gone. Ireland were in front.
Duffy savoured the moment like every player should.
The Danes were rattled. A summer in Russia beckoned for the Green Army.
But the visitors upped the tempo after falling behind and played some fine one-touch football, moving the Irish defence one way, then the other.
Offering constant width down Denmark’s right side, Christensen rolled the ball into William Kvist’s path in the 17th minute and the midfielder’s drilled effort from the edge of the box was destined for the bottom corner, until Darren Randolph’s right hand came to Ireland’s rescue.
Denmark, to their credit, kept coming, kept probing, kept moving the ball quickly.
And they opened up the home defence soon after Kvist’s effort but the unmarked Pione Sisto shot straight at Randolph.
It was only a matter of time before the Danes would edge in front.
And Stephen Ward will have nightmares about the visitors’ second goal.
Poulsen stole the ball off the Burnley man, he ferried the ball to Jorgensen and the striker’s clever pass found the unmarked Eriksen.
The Spurs man still had a lot to do but he stroked the ball effortlessly into the top corner of the net.
The Irish continued to huff and puff with Christie and James McClean having decent chances to level the tie in the second half.
But there were more mistakes in the Irish defence.
Randolph denied the Danes on several occasion but he could do nothing about Eriksen’s clever curling left-foot shot from the edge of the area to put them 3-1 ahead.
It got worse for the home side when Ward failed to clear Jorgensen’s cross and Eriksen anticipated quickest to ram the ball into the top corner of the net.
O’Neill had introduced Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady at the break – but neither could make an impression on proceedings.
And to rub salt into an open, bloody wound, Bendtner hammered home his 90th minute penalty after being fouled by McClean.
Hopes were so high for the Irish heading into last night’s second leg. But the Danes had other ideas.
As the they danced with their supporters at the final whistle, it was hard to know where Martin O’Neill and the Republic go from such a devastating defeat.
Rep of Ireland: Randolph, Christie, Duffy, Clark (Shane Long 71), Ward, Hendrick, Arter (McGeady 46), Meyler (Hoolahan 46), Brady, McClean, Murphy.
Subs Not Used: Westwood, O’Shea, McShane, Whelan, O’Dowda, Hourihane, Hogan, Kevin Long, Doyle.
Goals: Duffy 6.
Denmark: Schmeichel, Kjaer, Christensen, Bjelland, Poulsen (Cornelius 70), Delaney, Kvist, Larsen (Ankersen 54), Nicolai Jorgensen (Bendtner 84), Eriksen, Sisto.
Subs Not Used: Lossl, Jensen, Vestergaard, Mathias Zanka Jorgensen, Knudsen, Braithwaite, Lerager, Schone, Ronnow
Goals: Christie 29 og, Eriksen 32, 63, 73, Bendtner 90 pen.
Ref: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND PLAYER RATINGS
Darren Randolph: Man-of-the-match in the first leg, the Middlesbrough ’keeper made a series of stunning saves to keep the Irish in the hunt. But he was beaten by three unstoppable strikes from the brilliant Christian Eriksen. 8
Cyrus Christie: The Middlesbrough defender turned the ball into his own goal for Denmark’s equaliser, but he made some brave attacking runs in the second half before the Danes cruised home. 5
Stephen Ward: Sadly, kept his worst performance of the campaign ’til last. The Burnley man will have nightmares about trying to beat Yussuf Poulsen that led to Denmark’s second goal and messed up for Christian Eriksen’s third goal. 4
Ciaran Clark: Winning his 29th cap last night, the Newcastle man looked nervous at times and didn’t take any chances in possession. Had his hands full on Nicolai Jorgensen. 5
Shane Duffy: Winning just his 16th cap, the Brighton man popped with the opening goal of the night, and his second of the campaign. Tried to bag another from a few set pieces. Some passes were poor but, overall, an excellent campaign. 7
David Meyler: Recalled to the starting line-up for last night’s second leg, the Hull City man anticipated danger well and was composed in possession but was called ashore at the break with Wes Hoolahan coming in. 6
Harry Arter: The Bournemouth midfielder was nut-megged by Sisto for Denmark’s equaliser. He started well, breaking up some Danish attacks but some of his passes were poor. With Ireland chasing two goals, he was withdrawn at the break. 5
Jeff Hendrick: Looked like a fully fledged international footballer at last summer’s Euro 2016 finals, but his performances have spiralled since then. Too many games pass him by and he looked out on his feet in the second half. 4
Robbie Brady: Two legs, two poor games from the Burnley midfielder. A lot was expected of Brady across these two games, but it just didn’t happen for him. Had to play out of his skin for the Republic to progress. 4
Daryl Murphy: Surprisingly held onto his jersey for the second leg. A couple of decent touches but he didn’t have the energy to rush the Danish centre-backs. 4
James McClean: The Creggan native was unlucky with one angled drive in the first half and should have done better with a second half header that sailed over. Conceded a late penalty. 5
Wes Hoolahan: The playmaker the manager refused to build his team around. The game was already slipping from Ireland’s grasp when he was introduced after half-time. Set up Long for a decent chance. 5
Aiden McGeady: Flattered to deceive in possession. 4
Shane Long: Introduced in the 71st minute. Had one chance that drifted over the crossbar. 5
DENMARK PLAYER RATINGS
Kasper Schmeichel: Has similar presence in goal to his father and is a better kicker of the ball too. Second favourite to Shane Duffy for Ireland’s opening goal. Otherwise a comfortable night for the Leicester City ’keeper. 6
Andreas Christensen: Preferred at right back to Peter Ankersen and had a solid game. May claim Denmark’s equaliser in the first half. Didn’t have a lot of stressful moments. 7
Jens Stryger Larsen: Suffered a heavy knock after being put through in the early stages, but recovered temporarily to play a composed game at left back before making way for Ankersen. 6
Simon Kjaer: The Sevilla centre-back was a composed presence over the two legs. Never panicked under pressure and was brave with some of his short passes into his central midfield men. Unafraid of Ireland’s aerial threat too. 8
Andreas Bjelland: Arguably Denmark’s best player over the two legs. His passing out of defence was exemplary and forms a really impressive partnership with Kjaer. A class act for someone plying his trade at modest Brentford. 8
Thomas Delaney: The Werder Bremen defensive midfielder was always progressive with the ball and wasn’t afraid of the physical challenge presented by the Irish. Hendrick et al never laid a glove on him all night. 7
William Kvist: Very impressive over 180 minutes. Kept his passes simple and was probably afforded too much space as this second leg progressed. 7
Pione Sisto: The Celta Vigo creator was almost booted out of this second leg in the early exchanges but to his credit, he took the hits and set up Denmark’s crucial equaliser. Had chances to score a couple and was perpetual motion. Ireland simply couldn’t handle him. 8
STAR MAN: Christian Eriksen: Nobody should doubt the Spurs playmaker’s world-class credentials after this unforgettable display. When Denmark needed him, the 25-year-old stepped up with three wonderful strikes. Randolph never got near any of them. An incredible talent. 9.5
Yussuf Poulsen: Robbed Stephen Ward that led to Denmark’s second goal before half-time. Shipped a few heavy tackles before being replaced when the game was already won. 6
Nicolai Jorgensen: Even though he was at fault for Ireland’s goal, the striker was much improved in this second leg. Assisted for Eriksen’s opening goal and some of his lay-offs were quality. Led the line brilliantly. 7
Peter Ankersen: Slotted in at left back after Larsen couldn’t continue midway through the second half. 6
Andreas Cornelius: Never saw much possession but the game was over by the time of his introduction. 5
Nicklas Bendtner: Won and despatched a late penalty. Nice cameo. 6