Irish World Cup hopes crumble at feet of Christian Eriksen
Danish playmaker scores hat-trick in comprehensive playoff victory
Republic of Ireland 1 Denmark 5 (Denmark win 5-1 on agg)
More than 1,200 years after they first swung by and started giving foreigners a bad name, the Danes were back and turning Irish dreams into nightmares again. It’s the same old, same old with some people. This time it was our plans for next summer they left safely tucked up in the hold.
If there was any small sliver of consolation about this latest Danish raid it is that there wasn’t an ounce of injustice about it. Christian Eriksen belatedly justified every column inch that had been devoted to him when the playoff draw was made by scoring a hat-trick and generally taking the Irish apart.
By the end, Ireland had been more badly beaten than in that notorious defeat 32 years and a day ago when the very same opponents came and ended Eoin Hand’s time in charge.
This time, they got an extra goal, although at least there wasn’t the humiliation of the visitors taking someone off once the game was safe so he could fly to Germany and play a cup game for his club that same evening. It is tricky to think of anything else that might have made the second half here seem worse.
For a short while, the Danes must have had a sense that the locals were up for it and they were going to get a game. In the stands the volume was cranked up all the way to 11 through the opening minutes and on the pitch Ireland were clearly operating at 110 per cent.
Their play was chaotic even then but the intention was clear; having allowed their opponents to have the ball almost on the edge of their area on Saturday night, this time they were going to close them down in every area of the pitch, chase them back to Copenhagen if needs be.
It was a hell of a pace to set and we will never know how it might have ended had Martin O’Neill’s men managed to defend a bit better. Still we will always have those 18 minutes when the home side led courtesy of a Shane Duffy header that was facilitated by Nicolai Jorgensen’s hapless attempt to defend a long Robbie Brady free.
Ireland, of course, have had occasional difficulties with early leads over the course of this campaign and here they fairly quickly set about blowing one in spectacular fashion.
First they conceded from a short Eriksen corner with Yussuf Poulsen nutmegging Harry Arter before sending in a low cross that Andreas Christensen could only turn at full stretch towards the foot of the right post. The problem was that having been guarding that upright when the corner was taken, Cyrus Christie had spent the intervening seconds edging his way towards the centre of the goal and now as he lunged desperately back to make a block, he succeeded only in turning the ball over the line.
Now needing to score again, Ireland were plunged into complete crisis two minutes later when Stephen Ward was needlessly caught in possession at a time when the home side had been pressing. In the blink of an eye, the Danes swept forward and Poulsen fed Jorgensen whose first time pass to Eriksen was brilliantly fired in off the underside of the crossbar.
Darren Randolph already made a decent stop or two by that point and he would manage another couple before the night was out. There was to be no saving Ireland, though, with the home side looking doomed from the moment they had to start chasing the game against a side so well equipped to pick them off on the break.
O’Neill had talked about the need to avoid precisely this scenario beforehand and yet, with no viable replacements for the full backs, he gambled by replacing both of his holding midfielders with Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady. The former provided an occasional bit of composure on the ball but little more, while McGeady did not manage even that.
The cost, in any case, of dispensing with the protective shield, poor as it had been, became entirely apparent when Denmark passed from their own half to the edge of Irish area with barely the hint of a challenge being made. At the end of it all, Eriksen was allowed a yard or two to tee up his shot and, predictably, it was all that he needed.
A grim night for the two full backs was compounded by Denmark’s fourth. Pione Sisto capitalised on another Christie error and Ward made a mess of controlling the low cross the followed. Again Eriksen was there to complete a rather brilliant evening’s work. By the time James McClean conceded a penalty by fouling Nicklas Bendter in the final minute, it had long since become difficult to watch. The Rosenborg striker scored and the celebrations behind the Havelock Square end began.
The Danish fans, indeed, gave every impression here that they might just add joy and colour to the proceedings in Russia next summer as the Irish had hoped to. On the strength of this, Eriksen and his team-mates will certainly bring more footballing quality to the party than the team they had just beaten.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Christie (Middlesbrough), Clark (Newcastle United), Duffy (Brighton), Ward (Burnley); Hendrick (Burnley), Meyler (Hull City), Arter (Bournemouth), Brady (Burnley); McClean (West Brom); Murphy (Nottingham Forest).
Subs: Hoolahan and McGeady for Arter and Meyler (half-time), Long (Southampton) for Clark (71 mins).
DENMARK: Schmeichel (Leicester City); Christensen (Chelsea), Kjaer (Seville), Bjellend (Brentford), Larsen (Udinese); Delaney (Werder Bremen), Kvist (Copenhagen); Poulsen (Leipzig), Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur), Sisto (Celta Vigo); Jorgensen (Feyenoord).
Subs: Ankersen (FC Copenhagen) for Larsen (54 mins), Cornelius (Atalanta) for Poulsen (70 mins), Bendtner (Rosenborg) for Jorgensen (84 mins).
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).
Denmark: Schmeichel,Kjaer,Christensen,Bjelland, Poulsen (Cornelius 70),Delaney,Kvist,Larsen (Ankersen 54), Nicolai Jorgensen (Bendtner 84),Eriksen,Sisto.