The Republic of Ireland welcomed Denmark to the Aviva Stadium for the crucial second leg of the World Cup qualifier playoff tie between the two sides. The game in Denmark ended in a 0-0 draw, which put Martin O’Neill’s side in a decent position as they looked to edge out a win on home turf. For Denmark it was all about securing an away goal, as doing so meant that any draw other than a 0-0 would have seen them through. Whichever nation came out on top in this game would book their place in Russia next summer, making this one of the biggest games in both nations’ history.
Duffy’s towering header puts Ireland ahead
The atmosphere inside the Aviva Stadium was electric as the vitally important game kicked off, and the home fans were well aware than only a win would see Ireland through to the World Cup. With this fact in mind it was little surprise that Martin O’Neill’s players came out playing with an impressive intensity, closing down the Danish players with zealous determination. The passionate start caused the visitors problems straight away, and a simple floated free kick from Ireland resulted in an awkward backwards flick from a Danish defender. With the ball looping through the air Shane Duffy reacted quickest, rising higher than Kasper Schmeichel to nod the ball home and give Ireland an early lead, and the stadium erupted with delirious cheers.
To their credit the Danes refused to allow the early setback to knock their confidence, and they should have had an equaliser through left back Jens Stryger Larsen. The fullback made a sensational run and was picked out by an even more impressive lofted pass from Simon Kjaer, but the defender couldn’t quite get the connection on the shot at the back post and the chance went begging. Just minutes later another golden opportunity was squandered, this time by William Kvist. After being teed up by Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen the midfielder struck a shot that took a wicked deflection, but Darren Randolph was equal to it in the Ireland goal. The shot stopper was called into action again straight away as Pione Sisto found space in the shot, but his near post shot was saved well. It was all Ireland could do to hold onto their lead as the Danes pushed for an equaliser with some vigour in the opening 20 minutes.
A Danish double puts Irish hopes in jeopardy
After surviving an intense spell of pressure from the visitors, Ireland began to ease their way back into the game and seek a second goal. This wish was almost granted after Daryl Murphy got on the end of a cross from Cyrus Christie, but the striker’s shot rippled the side netting, fooling the vast majority of the stadium. Moments later James McClean, the hero of Ireland’s final qualifying game against Wales, had his own chance to double the home side’s lead. The winger went clean through down the left flank and advanced on the Danish goal, only to drag his shot agonizingly wide having left Schmeichel rooted to the spot. At 1-0 however O’Neill’s men were skating on thin ice as they knew than an equaliser from Denmark would see them miss out on a World Cup spot.
On the half hour mark disaster struck for the home side following a dizzying nutmeg by Sisto from a short corner. The winger subsequently surged into the box and picked out Christensen, who managed to squeeze in a scuffed shot past Christie, who was on the line in the hopes of pulling off a heroic block. It was an untidy finish, but Denmark suddenly found themselves in pole position having grabbed a valuable away goal.
The equaliser meant that Ireland needed another goal of their own, but in their quest to find one they were almost instantaneously caught out by a lightning counter attack. Yussuf Poulsen made a marauding run down the right hand side before squaring the ball to Nicolai Jorgensen, and the striker then looked straight for the advancing Christian Eriksen. The Tottenham midfielder took one touch to ready himself and then unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike that cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar, leaving Randolph no chance. It was a moment of sheer quality from arguably the most talented player on the pitch, and Eriksen’s goal was the difference between the two sides as they headed into the half time break.
A Danish sucker punch hits Ireland hard
The Ireland players came out for the second period knowing that they needed at least two goals if they wanted to head to Russia next summer, but finding those goals looked as if it would be a tough task for a side that scored just 12 times in 10 qualifying games. Despite their advantage it was actually Denmark who dominated the possession in the second half, and Sisto in particular seemed intent on grabbing a third goal to put the game out of sight. The Danes played with a noticeable confidence and Eriksen should have had a second goal as the hour mark approached. The midfielder was put through on the break but ultimately hit his shot straight at Randolph, who parried the ball away with relative ease.
When a second chance fell Eriksen’s way however the Dane was not to be denied. Some sloppy marking left the Spurs man free on the edge of the box, and he curled a sumptuous shot into the far corner with his left foot, all but ending the Irish dream and silencing the Aviva Stadium. The goal clearly hit the home side hard but the players never looked defeated, and an angled header from McClean that flew just over the bar proved that Ireland were never too far away from a goal that would give them hope.
Eriksen proves the difference once again
Unfortunately for Martin O’Neill’s side Eriksen was not to be denied his hat trick, and the Dane pounced on a scuffed clearance from Stephen Ward, before slamming an emphatic shot into the top corner to well and truly end any hope of an Irish resurgence. In truth there was little the home side could do to deal with the class of Eriksen, and his master class was the difference between the two sides. However the Danes were not done there as the introduction of Nicklas Bendtner led to an immediate impact. The former Arsenal man won a penalty after a clumsy challenge and he stepped up to slam the ball home himself, thus giving the score line a slightly more embarrassing look for the Irish fans.
As the clock ticked down the travelling fans could be heard loud above the emotionally shattered Irish faithful, and on the final whistle it was the Danes who celebrated not only a brilliant win, but also qualification to arguably the most prestigious footballing competition in the world.
It ended up being a heart-breaking night for Ireland as they fell at the final hurdle in the quest to reach the World Cup. While it will be a difficult loss to deal with, Martin O’Neill can take a lot of positives from the qualifying campaign as a whole. The qualification system for the World Cup can be incredibly difficult to navigate, as proved by the shock exits of some major nations in the group stage, and the fact that Ireland were just a single game away from making it to Russia is a huge success in itself. As a side that is generally impressive defensively, working on finding more goals amongst the forwards will be the priority in the coming months.
Denmark will be understandably elated to have qualified for another World Cup, and they have the remarkable talent of Christian Eriksen to thank. The midfielder was on a different level to every other player on the pitch at the Aviva Stadium, and his hat trick was well deserved and well earned. It remains to be seen how far the Danes can go come next summer, but with a player of Eriksen’s calibre in the team anything is possible.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph, Christie, Duffy, Clark (Long, 71’), Ward, Hendrick, Arter (McGeady, 46’), Meyler (Hoolahan, 46’), Brady, McClean, Murphy
Denmark: Schmeichel, Kjaer, Christensen, Bjelland, Poulsen (Cornelius, 70’), Delaney, Kvist, Larsen (Ankersen, 54’), N. Jorgensen (Bendtner, 84’), Eriksen, Sisto
Goals: Duffy (1-0, 6’), Christensen (1-1, 29’), Eriksen (1-2, 32’), Eriksen (1-3, 63’), Eriksen (1-4, 73’), Bendtner (1-5, 90’)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Republic of Ireland: Randolph 7, Christie 7, Duffy 7, Clark 6 (Long 6), Ward 6, Hendrick 6, Arter 6 (McGeady 5), Meyler 6 (Hoolahan 5), Brady 5, McClean 7, Murphy 6
Denmark: Schmeichel 6, Kjae 7r, Christensen 7, Bjelland 7, Poulsen 7 (Cornelius), Delaney 7, Kvist 7, Larsen 6 (Ankersen 6), N. Jorgensen 8 (Bendtner n/a), Eriksen 10, Sisto 8
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