What began as a night of high hopes and belief, ended in bitter disappointment as the Republic of Ireland were heavily defeated 5-1 in the second leg of their FIFA World Cup 2018 play-off at the Aviva Stadium, and as a result failed to qualify for next summer’s soccer showpiece in Russia.
The game had the best possible start from an Irish viewpoint with Shane Duffy putting the home side ahead in the 6th minute. A horror uncontrolled kick from Nicolai Jorgensen saw the ball head in the direction of the defender’s own goal. As Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of former Manchester United great Peter, came to clear the ball Duffy got his head to it first in the centre of the box to send the ball into the Danish net.
Unfortunately Ireland then sat back and allowed the visitors come at them, while defending too deeply. The Danish pressure came to fruition in the 29th minute when Pione Sisto, who had an earlier effort saved by Darren Randolph, totally burned Harry Arter as he twisted and turned before getting inside the Irishman. The Dane sent the ball across the square for Andreas Christensen to poke his foot at it. Despite the best effort of Cyrus Christie the ball went agonisingly across the goal line, with the score being credited to Christie as an own goal.
Within minutes matters got worse for the Irish as Christian Eriksen doubled the Danish tally, when scoring the first of his hat-trick. The Scandinavians broke quickly from their own half of the field, and with Ireland attempting to get back into defensive positions, Erisken right-footed the ball from the centre of the box and into the top left corner past Randolph in the Irish goal.
Martin O’Neill made two changes at half time: Wes Hoolahan replaced Daryl Murphy, while Aiden McGeady took the place of Harry Arter in the Irish line-up. Despite the initial energy of the replacements the Danes showed their class.
Eriksen sealed his side’s trip to Russia next year in the 63rd minute of the game. The striker’s left foot shot went past Randolph, who had saved an effort from the brilliant striker a few minutes previously, to increase the Danish lead.
Goal number four for the way side came in the 73rd minute. A ball was whipped in by Denmark but as Stephen Ward attempted to stop it, his off-balance attempt at a clearance stopped the ball, only to lay it off for Christian Eriksen who gratefully ran onto the ball to complete his hat-trick and the Danish rout.
A header from James McLean went over the bar from close range. Shane Long, who came on late in the game thought he had broken his goals-scoring drought only to see his shot again sail over the bar, as Irish efforts on goal were few and far between in the second period.
The Irish humiliation was complete when Nicklas Bendtner scored a penalty in the dying minutes of the game as his shot left Darren Randolph helpless in the Irish goal.
Few can have any complaints as this was a comprehensive victory by the Danes. While Saturday night’s 0-0 away result had given hope, confidence and belief, the Russian dream well and truly died at home.