Crushed O’neill’s Ire­land see World Cup dreams shat­tered by Eriksen hat-trick

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Luke Ed­wards at the Aviva Sta­dium

The Repub­lic of Ire­land have put their heart and soul into this World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign, but when it mat­tered most they were short of the one thing that re­ally mat­ters – qual­ity.

That was served up with style for Den­mark by Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s Chris­tian Eriksen, who scored a mag­nif­i­cent hat-trick, stroking two shots into the net like he was knock­ing balls into an empty goal at the end of a train­ing ses­sion, be­fore smash­ing in a third.

Ire­land were forced to bend the knee in the pres­ence of his bril­liance. Den­mark had one world­class player, Ire­land had none. It can make small mar­gins look like a gulf in class.

Ire­land were crushed, but the sug­ges­tion they had been hu­mil­i­ated at the end of a cam­paign in which they were fourth seeds in their group and still fin­ished sec­ond drew an an­gry re­sponse from man­ager Martin O’neill, who walked out of a post-match tele­vi­sion in­ter­view.

“We were well beaten, no ques­tion about that,” said O’neill. “We were made to pay for some sloppy de­fend­ing, two re­ally poor goals to con­cede, and when we tried to chase the game, we were pun­ished.

“But we were beaten in a play­off. We have fought tooth and nail to get here, so the sense of dis­ap­point­ment is huge. But we have played 24 com­pet­i­tive games and lost four. This is one of them.

“We were beaten by a side that was bet­ter than us and has a world­class player in the team, who was ab­so­lutely mag­nif­i­cent. Eriksen is top class and he showed it.”

Eriksen now be­longs in an elite group of play­ers in the mod­ern era, along­side Gareth Bale, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Zlatan Ibrahi­movic, who have car­ried their na­tional teams to new heights, defin­ing the big games with the force of their in­di­vid­ual tal­ent.

In the end, Ire­land gam­bled and lost. O’neill tried some­thing dif­fer­ent and it did not work. Hav­ing smoth­ered Den­mark in the first leg in Copen­hagen, he tried to at­tack them. He might re­gret it now but, in truth, noth­ing was likely to stand in Eriksen’s way. He and Den­mark fully de­serve to be at the World Cup next year.

By the time Ire­land play in one, it will have been at least 20 years since their last ap­pear­ance. An en­tire gen­er­a­tion will have grown up with­out see­ing their coun­try play in the big­gest tour­na­ment of all.

Then again, for all of the sense of en­ti­tle­ment in Ir­ish foot­ball, the strange as­sump­tion they should be play­ing on the big­gest stage, World Cups tend to take place with­out them. They have only made three, the last of which was in 2002, when they had a squad packed with Pre­mier League play­ers. They do not have that lux­ury any more, but this was still a huge let-down, the sort of an­ti­cli­max that turns a party into a wake. They have felt like this be­fore. This was the fourth World Cup play-off they have lost, but this had been their chance to erase those bit­ter mem­o­ries to the point of dele­tion.

It had the per­fect start, Shane Duffy head­ing Ire­land in front from Rob­bie Brady’s free-kick. Ire­land had other chances, a flick from Daryl Mur­phy al­most turned in Cyrus Christie’s cross be­fore James Mcclean, af­ter a lovely move down the left, was played in be­hind by Brady. But, from a tricky an­gle, he dragged his ef­fort wide of the far post.

Min­utes later, Den­mark were level. Harry Arter was beaten too eas­ily from a short corner by Pione Sisto and, al­though An­dreas Chris­tensen sliced his shot against a post, it re­bounded in off Christie.

A set­back turned into a dis­as­ter when Stephen Ward was robbed by Yus­suf Poulsen. The ball was moved to Eriksen and Den­mark’s star player found the net via the un­der­side of the cross­bar.

Need­ing two goals in the sec­ond half, O’neill went for broke and ended up bro­ken. Off went Arter and David Meyler – on came Ai­den Mcgeady and Wes Hoola­han. Cau­tion was no longer a vi­able pol­icy, but he was send­ing on two at­tack­ing play­ers from the Cham­pi­onship, not the Pre­mier League.

Eriksen made full use of the space, curl­ing in a sec­ond goal and pun­ish­ing some poor con­trol from Ward to grab a third. Nicklas Bendt­ner added a fifth with a penalty.

“Eriksen is one of the best play­ers in Europe,” said Den­mark coach Age Hareide. “We have seen that against Real Madrid in the Cham­pi­ons League and tonight. He is in the top 10 play­ers in the world, he has this abil­ity to score goals, to make as­sists and find space, he is a special player. As soon as Ire­land gave him space, he hurt them.”

Match-win­ner: Chris­tian Eriksen en­joys the sec­ond of his three goals

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.