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Spot-kick misery ends Ireland's dream of playing Euros in Dublin next summer

Slovakia 0 Ireland 0 (AET, Slovakia win 4-2 on pens)

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Ireland players are left dejected after the penalty shoot-out. Photo: PA

Ireland players are left dejected after the penalty shoot-out. Photo: PA

Misses Browne: Alan Browne sees his penalty saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Photo: Getty Images

Misses Browne: Alan Browne sees his penalty saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Photo: Getty Images

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Ireland players are left dejected after the penalty shoot-out. Photo: PA

Drama of the worst kind.

Ireland's European Championships campaign ends after a day that delivered a rollercoaster of emotions.

It's the misses in general play, and not the spot kicks, that will have haunted them on their flight home.

Stephen Kenny's side showcased significant improvement from last month's double header without ending his wait for a first goal in general play and that ultimately cost the visitors as Slovakia held their nerve in the shootout to convert all four of their efforts.

Unsuccessful attempts from Alan Browne and Matt Doherty at the same end where Browne had struck the woodwork minutes previously spelled the end for their hopes of involvement in a major tournament on home soil next summer.

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Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Getty Images

It's a bitter pill to swallow after a build-up which tackled the theme that the preparation had run smoother for Ireland.

Hours before the game, it emerged that a second member of the backroom team had tested positive for Covid-19 and a consequence of that was the need to take Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah out of proceedings because they were deemed to be close contacts on account of activity across the week.

Connolly was due to start ahead of James McClean, and that late switch provided a more direct option on the left side than the threat provided by the in-form Brighton player. Slovakia had coped with the loss of two key players in the final 24 hours of the match, so this evened up the balance of disruption.

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Ireland's David McGoldrick and Slovakia's Denis Vavro chase down the ball. Photo: PA

Ireland's David McGoldrick and Slovakia's Denis Vavro chase down the ball. Photo: PA

Ireland's David McGoldrick and Slovakia's Denis Vavro chase down the ball. Photo: PA

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The first half was disjointed in patches, with both sides probably heading for the dressing room thinking they might be ahead with a bit more composure in the final third.

McClean was prominent for Ireland in the early stages with a Slovakian back four upset by the 11th hour withdrawal of Milan Škriniar appearing ponderous when pressure was applied. Indeed, Callum Robinson, preferred to Callum O'Dowda, appeared surprised when a Slovak slip provided him with an early chance to strike.

That chance was blocked behind for a corner and resulted in an outcome that was replicated just before half-time when an Irish delivery was cleared and Slovakia threatened from a rapid-fire counter.

First time around, McClean got back for a superb block to avert danger. Just before the interval, Darren Randolph got down well to push away a strike from Ondrej Duda. It was the only time Randolph had seriously been called into action. However, his opposite number Marek Rodak was hardly overworked on the occasion of his second cap.

There were times where Slovakia looked shaky yet the final ball was lacking. Conor Hourihane tended to be located deeper next to James McCarthy with Jeff Hendrick pressed on.

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Ireland's Enda Stevens keeps possession ahead of Slovakia's Juraj Kucka. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland's Enda Stevens keeps possession ahead of Slovakia's Juraj Kucka. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland's Enda Stevens keeps possession ahead of Slovakia's Juraj Kucka. Photo: Getty Images

Hourihane functioned as a quarterback from deep to instigate some of the better passages. McCarthy worked hard to endeavour to close space, with Marek Hamsik still capable of showing his quality albeit in unthreatening areas from the Irish point of view. Indeed, from the restart Hamsik almost made an inglorious contribution when he nearly diverted a Hourihane free past his own goalkeeper with a nervous look before the ball trickled wide.

Hamsik was soon involved at the other end, probing in a spell where Slovakia forced a series of corners, with short, sharp passing briefly unsettling the white shirts.

Ireland suffered another setback when McCarthy was lost to an injury, with Kenny using the opportunity to make a double sub with McClean departing to make way for Robbie Brady and Browne.

Brady went to the right side with Robinson switched to the left and Ireland recovered well to forge their best opening with David McGoldrick's hold-up play paving the way for an advance from Enda Stevens and a slick pass for Browne whose right-footer was blocked by Rodak.

Ireland's glorious miss was matched by a near miss when Slovakian sub Lukáš Haraslín darted in behind the exposed Doherty to collect a clever Hamsik pass and he found a way past Randolph only to be denied by superb Shane Duffy defending, taking the position to clear off the line.

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Misses Browne: Alan Browne sees his penalty saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Photo: Getty Images

Misses Browne: Alan Browne sees his penalty saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Photo: Getty Images

Misses Browne: Alan Browne sees his penalty saved by Slovakia goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Photo: Getty Images

Yet it was Ireland who were showing more intent as the end of regulation time approached with McGoldrick coming to the fore as it became more stretched with his quality and awareness allowing others to run off him and this was the avenue that picked open the Slovak lock with five to go.

Alas, after a fine move, Robinson and then Browne worked the space for Hourihane but on his wrong foot his poor effort was straight at Kucka with Rodak beaten.

Extra-time was the consequence and it was Ireland that came closest to preventing spot kicks. McGoldrick's instant attempt to break the deadlock with a turn and shot tested Rodak before sub Callum O'Dowda was at the heart of another fluid move that culminated with Browne poking against the post.

That was the last sight clear of goal until penalties.

Desolation loomed for the visitors.


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