World Cup Playoff: Republic of Ireland 1 – 5 Denmark (Agg: 1-5)

Denmark advance to the Russia 2018 World Cup finals with a thoroughly deserved victory over a Republic of Ireland side who started with gusto but were reduced to chasing shadows thereafter. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Composure the key

Let us be frank about this. Republic of Ireland could not have started the game any better. An early goal scored by Shane Duffy after a Danish defensive slip had the home crowd in raptures after five minutes. Denmark were under the cosh, their character and more significantly composure were tested but the response was emphatic. Denmark continued to play their football, slick one touch passing finding gaps between midfield and defense. Randolph produced two world class saves in that opening twenty minutes to keep the Danish threat at bay but the warning signs were there for all to see and once the first goal was leaked, the spirit in the side was broken and the leadership was bereft in the camp evident in the back chat among Ireland players when passes went astray.

Ireland key players failed to deliver

James McClean aside, the key Ireland players were absent. Robbie Brady was devoid of creativity and passing threat throughout this playoff series. Jeff Hendrick was anonymous, the first time I saw the player was when the camera panned on him midway through the first half. Either of these players would have had no complaints if being hauled off at the break but the decision of Ireland management to haul off both central midfielders allowed Eriksen and Delaney the freedom of the park to express themselves in the second half. Meyler’s substitution was baffling. Your captain is required more than ever, lead by example but it looks like the captaincy was a token gesture to the player. McGeady’s cameo was predictably one dimensional, a jink and poor final ball. Wes Hoolahan was overrun in the midfield area and poor Shane Long when introduced could not buy a goal. Ireland needed everyone in full flow, top of their form. I don’t think any of the players on show tonight can say that and with the absences of Coleman and Walters, it was a step too far.

Eriksen the jewel in the crown

Denmark thoroughly deserved this victory. On reflection, they could have being two goals up going into this tie but somehow Ireland were still in contention. Eriksen tonight was a class apart, his movement, passing and his goals were emphatic. Ireland will have to ask on the organization and defensive setup but Ireland were opened up at will tonight in both halves. Delaney was prominent as well; provided good passing ability and his ability to support his back four linking up play was something that Ireland did not have. The Danish side were solid and with ever increasing space to roam in the second half, five goals scored was the least that they deserved. Eriksen was the class act in this tie. Denmark need to ensure that the player is in top form come the summer time but the road trip performances this year have being on point. Thoroughly deserve their place in the World Cup.

Where now Ireland?

A tricky review of this campaign lies ahead. Martin O’Neill struck a man in trouble after that Tony O’Donoghue interview but the side lacked cohesion, organization and passing ability at various points in the campaign this year. The pool of players is limited, the pool of players are predominantly playing in the Championship but it does not excuse the sloppy defensive and passing display in many of the qualifiers and playoff games this year.

Players who excel with their clubs in these traits were strangely second class in recent games. What is going on in the training ground when the squad assembles at FAI HQ? A limited game plan, a direct game plan with no midfield runners off the striker. This result hurts everyone associated with the side but realistically the squad depth at the disposal of Martin O’Neill was limited tonight. Coleman and Walters unquestionably would have added quality to the ranks but the middle of the park is lacking leadership and figures who will take the game by the scruff of the neck.

I hate to go back to Brady and Hendrick but these two players have being pale shadows of the players who featured so well in the European Championships. A reality check for all concerned and the supporters should realize and prepare themselves for a period of transition as a couple of stalwarts in the squad depart stage left. Whelan, Walters, Murphy, O’Shea look most likely to have played their last international games.

The lack of goal threat from attacking areas was a weak point in this campaign. Shane Long must discover his scoring touch fast, otherwise he might be forced to spend more time on the bench. Apart from James McClean and Shane Duffy from the back at set-pieces, where else was the threat posed from Ireland in this campaign? A tough assignment for O’Neill and Keane to unravel in the months ahead.

A nightmare evening for Republic of Ireland but one that has being coming, better to go out now than being totally humiliated in the summer heat of Russia next year. The question is whether the side will be in a position to get to a major tournament the next time around? After tonight, serious concerns are present. 1985 flashback, let us hope for another renaissance but where is the next generation of player to take this team on?

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