Sub­tlety, strat­egy and a star player too much for O’Neill’s men

The Repub­lic will be missed in Rus­sia but were blown away by Den­mark’s tal­is­man writes Louise Tay­lor

The Guardian - Sport - - World Cup Play-off Football -

They may have long since traded their long­ships for char­ter flights from Copen­hagen but the red and white be­decked army march­ing to­wards ar­rivals at Dublin air­port yes­ter­day morn­ing sug­gested the Vik­ing spirit lives on. Across town at the Aviva Sta­dium a few hours later those Dan­ish fans cel­e­brated un­re­strainedly as Age Hareide’s team pil­laged the Repub­lic of Ire­land’s World Cup dream. Sub­sti­tut­ing their an­ces­tors’ blood-cur­dling vi­o­lence with foot­balling in­tel­li­gence, Den­mark of­fered the sort of strat­egy and sub­tlety Martin O’Neill’s play­ers could not match. Along the way Chris­tian Eriksen reg­is­tered a gor­geous hat-trick. What Ire­land would give to have an Eriksen on their team-sheet.

The post mortem is bound to in­volve a painful dis­sec­tion of the tac­tics – or lack of them – de­ployed by O’Neill and his as­sis­tant Roy Keane but per­haps this side should be praised for the blood­y­mind­ed­ness which car­ried them this far.

Con­sid­er­ing they are all about de­fy­ing the odds, all about con­found­ing

doubters, O’Neill could not have named a more em­blem­atic cap­tain last night.

Seven years on from rup­tur­ing ev­ery lig­a­ment in his right knee and be­ing warned by a lead­ing sur­geon he might strug­gle to walk nor­mally again, David Meyler strode pur­pose­fully to­wards the cen­tre cir­cle, his arm­band high­lighted by the flood­lights.

Its pres­ence em­pha­sised his feat in win­ning O’Neill’s trust. In an ear­lier in­car­na­tion as Sun­der­land man­ager, O’Neill moved Meyler – still re­cov­er­ing from de­bil­i­tat­ing op­er­a­tions – on to Hull City and sug­gested his tack­ling left the mid­fielder dan­ger­ously open to in­jury.

Col­lec­tive trust binds Ire­land but the to­geth­er­ness proved in­suf­fi­cient. Stop­ping op­po­nents – as O’Neill’s play­ers demon­strated while hold­ing Den­mark on Satur­day – may be their forte but here they needed goals.

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