AVIVA-DERCI TO WORLD CUP DREAM
Our boys in green closed the year on a bona-fide dud note, as they suffered one of their worst home defeats in memory against the Danes during the second leg of their World Cup play-offs. After managing to grab the second spot in the qualifying group with a series of final scores that could best be described as binary (all zeroes and ones), the five Denmark got past Darren Randolph killed what hope we had temporarily regained, while saving some families a solid few grand.
After drawing with Wales in March and Austria in June, the winning streak against Austria, Georgia and Moldova that closed out 2016 was petering out. Added to two friendly defeats to Mexico and Iceland, optimism about qualification was receding somewhat.
Martin O’Neill was coming under increased scrutiny – not least from his eternal jousting partner Tony O’Donoghue – as the Serbs rolled in to the Aviva Stadium, and things went from bad to worse as Aleksandar Kolarov got the only goal of the night.
It was a bitter defeat that had seemingly done for our qualification hopes. However, the boys received a second wind, overpowering Moldova, before Harry Alter’s dummy gave James McClean the chance to slot one home in Cardiff against a Wales team sans Gareth Bale. Drawing Denmark in the play-offs, everything was going according to plan in Copenhagen thanks to a scoreless draw; we were a can of beans the Danes tried to open with their bare hands, as Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney remarked.
Then they came to the Aviva Stadium and, suffice to say, they finally located the tin opener. Cue people calling for O’Neill’s head and a speechless McClean being broadcast into sitting rooms nationwide. Still, at least the fans won the respect of Denmark’s police – even if the next competitive game (the Euro 2020 qualifiers don’t commence until March 2019) now seems an eternity away.