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Another Danish draw not enough as Ireland consigned to Euro 2020 play-offs

Ireland didn’t want for effort, but they were ultimately not good enough to beat familiar opponents.

Enda Stevens reacts to a late chance.
Enda Stevens reacts to a late chance.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 1

Denmark 1

ANOTHER HEARTBREAK COLDLY embraced. Ireland came into this decisive Euro 2020 qualifier sustained by a hope constructed by the usual welter of 1-1 draws, but ultimately that result was revealed as not enough to nudge Denmark to the group’s second spot at Euro 2020. 

Instead, Ireland head for the play-offs of this forgiving system. 

Denmark were their usual, extravagantly average selves with Christian Eriksen shackled, but punctured the mood with a Martin Braithwaite goal against the run of play in the second half. While Ireland equalised late through the superb Matt Doherty, desperation didn’t fall their way in a frantic finale. 

On this fateful night a decade ago, Ireland could find refuge in aberration and injustice, tonight they must live with the wicked feeling of not being quite good enough, and for all the nostalgia and the hope and the unstinting effort and the dreamy talk of heroes, Ireland had to deal with the bitter reality that they simply do not create enough goalscoring chances. 

In picking Alan Browne on the right and Jeff Hendrick dropping off David McGoldrick, Mick McCarthy picked a side that ideally wouldn’t have to score twice. Hence there was little ventured by Ireland in the opening half-hour, which slowly drew the energy from an ebullient crowd. 

By that half-hour mark, the roars had subsided, likely replaced by a thousand murmurs of ‘No Great Shakes.’

Denmark scuffed loose balls out of play and struggled to break down a compact Ireland, an Eriksen volley that was headed behind by Shane Duffy amounting to their best effort. 

The Danes were, admittedly, beset by bad luck.

Andreas Cornelius limped down the tunnel before the half-hour mark when he twanged a hamstring and in a nice bit of symmetry to Ireland’s campaign, this last game bore a hallmark of their first – a Delaney in considerable bother. Dortmund midfielder Thomas rolled his ankle in tackling Alan Browne after just eight minutes, and rather than play the old FAI trick of moving Delaney to a new yet no-less vital role, he was replaced. In this case, by Denmark’s goalscorer from the Copenhagen clash, Pierre Emile Hojbjerg. 

Whichever of Ireland’s imprecise, staccato attacks came to something were invariably knitted together by David McGoldrick’s velcro chest and thighs. His hold-up play is remarkable, and it was his work that presented Ireland with the chance of the first-half.

McGoldrick’s square pass may not have been intended for him, but the ball broke perfectly for Conor Hourihane in the penalty area.  As the crowd surged in expectation as the midfielder opened his body for the shot…the ball rolled tamely at Schmeichel. 

From there, all Ireland had were a couple of efforts from distance by Browne and McGoldrick – neither too close – before the first-half ended with the corner we’d all been waiting for. Hourihane’s effort didn’t clear the first man thought, and Whelan’s return ball to the back post that evaded Shane Duffy. 

Jeff Hendrick had clearly been told to run beyond McGoldrick and the Danish defence, but Ireland’s attack spluttered too often and a succession of passes were bafflingly played short.

Ireland began the second half with more purpose and more structure, as they played with more width and hemmed the Danes infield. Matt Doherty came to life – playing a neat short corner to Hourihane that narrowly evaded the Irish bodies hurtling toward it. 

matt-doherty-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-goal Matt Doherty reacts to his goal. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Soon after, more great Doherty play down the right was thwarted by a dreadful McClean cross.

Stevens, meanwhile, grew into the game down the left, and his cross for McGoldrick resulted in the striker spinning and volleying over. It was met by the loudest roar of the night…but that was punctured minutes later as Braithwaite stabbed the ball beyond Darren Randolph from a Daalsgard cross, played onside by a dawdling Shane Duffy. 

McCarthy threw on Seani Maguire for Whelan and left Duffy up front as Ireland fed off desperation. What bit of structure Ireland had led to their equaliser as one full-back found another: Stevens crossing to Doherty to nod the ball in at the back post. 

By this stage Ireland were propelled largely by the berserk noise in the ground; Maguire winning a corner that was greeted with an elemental roar. Duffy turned into a kind of medieval battering ram, colliding with Schmeichel to the referee’s disinterest. Stevens, enticed by the empty goal as the goalkeeper lay on the ground, skewed an audacious shot over the bar. 

He lacked in that moment what Ireland needed – composure. For all the effort, ultimately a riotous ground could not ransack the natural order. 

The second seeds finish second, the third seeds finish third. Football has a cold habit of reverting to the mean.  

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan (Ciaran Clark, HT), Enda Stevens; Glenn Whelan (Seani Maguire, 81′), Conor Hourihane (Callum Robinson, 68′), James McClean, Alan Browne; Jeff Hendrick, David McGoldrick

Denmark: Kasper Schmeichel; Henrik Dalsgaard, Mathias Jorgensen, Simon Kjaer (captain), Jens Stryger Larsen; Lasse Schone, Thomas Delaney (Pierre Emile Hojbjerg, 13′); Yussuf Poulsen, Christian Eriksen, Martin Braithwaite; Andreas Cornelius (Kasper Dolberg, 33′)

Referee: Felix Brych 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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