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Friday 21 September 2018

A real Danish pasting

New questions for O'Neill as Ireland exposed by superb Danes

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill looks on in disbelief during the World Cup play-off thrashing at the hands of Denmark.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill looks on in disbelief during the World Cup play-off thrashing at the hands of Denmark.

No probably about it. The better side won and got their place at the World Cup finals while Irish football is today left to endure a painful, bruising, morale-sapping defeat.

Trips to the credit union, sneaky looks at how many roubles to the euro, the green army traversing Russia on night trains in the adventure of a lifetime... we can put all of that in the bin as the Republic of Ireland side were shown up on home soil last night.

Spanked. At home. Painfully so, utterly outclassed and out-thought by Denmark.

No moans about the referee, no handball claims. Ireland were found out, badly exposed, tactically outplayed, had mistakes punished and today we are left with empty dreams, battered pride.

And more questions about where Irish football is going. Back in 1985, Denmark came to Dublin, outclassed the Republic with a 4-1 hammering to secure World Cup qualification with a stunning display of football, and the career of an Ireland manager (Eoin Hand) came to a bitter end.

Poor

This will be the end of the international road for a bunch of players as thirty-somethings may well decide to quit.

One man not exiting the stage is manager Martin O'Neill, secure on a contract up to 2020. O'Neill will feel that he deserved his new deal for the feat of getting out of the group and into the playoffs to put his side 90 minutes away from the World Cup, further than Holland, Turkey or the Czech Republic managed.

Shane Duffy shows his dejection at the concession of the second goal.
Shane Duffy shows his dejection at the concession of the second goal.

O'Neill wasn't personally liable for the awful defending which gifted Denmark space and five goals, from Harry Arter's poor attempt to block Pione Sisto for the first goal to Stephen Ward's slip leading to the fourth and James McClean's foul for the fifth, from a penalty.

Withdrawing that new contract offer for O'Neill and embarking on a long managerial search will not necessarily save Irish football.

But O'Neill has to take blame for what happened last night. The poor team selection, the loyalty to players whose form should have seen them dropped, especially in midfield where Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick have regressed, not progressed.

O'Neill got lucky at times in the group but last night he got it wrong as the players seemed clueless as to how to play in that diamond formation, that midfield a mess not salvageable by the half-time arrival of Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady.

O'Neill's foibles - refusing to consider dropping the likes of Brady, only naming his team very close to kick-off, have been costly and if he is to lead the team to some form of success in 2020, he has to change. But can a 65-year-old change?

The tactics are poor, the preparation of the team is not what's needed in 2017 and while O'Neill gets credit for beating Wales to a play-off pace, he needs now to prove that he is the man to stay in the post.

The Danes had reacted badly to the suggestion - taunt, even - from David Meyler that Denmark's players lacked the desire and character which Ireland have in abundance.

Gritted teeth, clenched fists and beating hearts can sometimes win out, but even though for a while, a brief while, it looked the Danes would bottle it last night, they showed their class and did what needed to be done.

Ireland, certainly an Ireland side playing this way, would have been found out in Russia next year so maybe this heavy defeat saved us all months of waiting for it to happen.

Christian Eriksen scores the second of his three goals in the World Cup play-off win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Christian Eriksen scores the second of his three goals in the World Cup play-off win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Of course it had all started so well. In a repeat of the qualifier away to Georgia in September, Ireland got an early lead from Shane Duffy.

Brady's long free-kick was hit into the box, the Danish player who tried to make a clearance was forward Nicolai Jorgensen who sliced his effort, gifting the chance to Duffy and he headed past Kasper Schmeichel.

But Dublin then saw a repeat of what happened in Tbilisi as Ireland were unable to hold a lead. The response from the Danes was gradual, efficient and impressive as they poured pressure on an Irish back four which the Danes thought, indeed knew, would concede if pressed.

Twice in the space of two minutes, Ireland only stayed in the game thanks to the agility of Darren Randolph, a man almost certain to win Ireland's player of the year award for 2017 because, without him, Ireland might not have even made the play-offs or else could have been beaten out of sight in the first leg in Copenhagen.

On 17 minutes Randolph saved from William Kvist and seconds later he was needed to keep out a good effort from Sisto, a player who looked to be out of sorts in the first few minutes but regained his confidence.

Ireland did respond, good efforts from Daryl Murphy and James McClean off target. But there was the feeling, always, that the Danes had more in them, had goals in them, had another gear. And within the space of three minutes it was over as they had their two goals, two away goals.

The first was a scrappy one, Andreas Christensen seeing his stabbed shot go over the line with a touch from Christie, but Sisto deserves praise for his part in the goal as he left Harry Arter in his wake by getting in the cross.

The second goal was a self-inflicted wound, Stephen Ward - who had been one of Ireland's most reliable players in the group - gifting the ball to Poulsen, he worked a move with Jorgensen, the Danish forward making up for his part in Ireland's goal, and Eriksen was left free to score.

Space, which was denied to players like Eriksen in Copenhagen, was falling for the Danes as Ireland struggled to deal with the shape.

And there was more to come, Eriksen scoring on 63 minutes, a stunning goal involving eight passes, adding another on 74 minutes from Ward's slip with a 90th minute penalty from Nicklas Bendtner the last blow.

Crushed dreams on a crushing night when Ireland got what they deserved.

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