Devastation for Ireland as Christian Eriksen's class sends the Danes to the World Cup in style
Martin O’Neill’s side were outclassed and thrashed by Denmark and inevitably Denmark star Christian Eriksen proved the world class matchwinner who will grace next summer’s finals.
The Spurs midfielder scored a hat-trick as the visitors inflicted a painful 5-1 drubbing on Martin O’Neill, which could bring an end to his era, despite an agreement to stay on for the next campaign.
Ireland made a dream start, scoring after just six minutes, when Shane Duffy headed over Kasper Schmeichel.
But the early goal provoked the visitors and although Ireland had chances to double their lead, a goal from Age Hareide’s side always looked likely. And they scored two in three devastating minutes to kill the night and added three after the break.
Inevitably, it was Eriksen who proved to be the difference between the two sides, playing a bit part in the equaliser before scoring a clinical goal three minutes later. He grabbed his second and third in the second-half before former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner finished the scoring from the penalty spot in the last minute.
The brilliant assist for Eriksen’s second came from Danish Number Nine Nicolai Jorgensen but the Feyenoord striker inadvertently played a key role in the opening goal of the night.
Robbie Brady finally played a decent set piece from the halfway line and Jorgensen got the decisive touch with his right foot, but directed the ball into the air and at the perfect height for Shane Duffy to meet and beat Schmeichel.
Lansdowne roared. The Danes found their feet and Darren Randolph made two fines saves to keep his sheet clean.
The Ireland Number One was at full stretch to touch a William Kvist drive through a crowded area behind with a firm right hand and was equal to a Pione Sisto effort at his near post after Cyrus Christie was out of position.
And yet before the unfortunate Christie helped pull Denmark level, the Middlesbrough full-back was involved in a move which could have put the game beyond them.
Racing down the right, and ignoring the screams of James McClean, he supplied Daryl Murphy was a bouncing cross which the striker hit first time on the turn, rippling the side-netting.
Minutes later, at the end of Ireland’s best move of the two encounters, McClean dragged a shot wide of Schmeichel’s post after he had been played into the penalty area by Brady.
Then came three horrific minutes which effectively ended hopes qualification, leaving Ireland requiring an unlikely two goals to reach Russia.
The first was an own goal but Christie was blameless. The problem came from Harry Arter’s inability to defend Eriksen’s short corner to Sisto, who nutmegged the Bournemouth midfielder and slipped a low centre across goal. Andreas Christensen actually mis-hit his shot against the post but the rebound hit the inside of the out-stretched Christie’s thigh and trickled over the line.
The second was an Eriksen beauty and the kind of goal the Spurs midfielder is capable of scoring in an instant.
And that was all it seemed to take. From the moment Ward lost possession to Yussuf Poulsen on halfway, to his slick pass into Jorgsensen, a swift one-two, quick pass to Eriksen and thumping first-time finish off the underside of the bar.
It sucked the life and the atmosphere out of the Aviva and Hareide’s men saw out the rest of the first-half before O’Neill made two changes at the break in a desperate bid to get two goals. He sent on Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan for David Meyler and Harry Arter but the game was beyond his men.
Still relying mainly on set pieces, they hardly laid a glove on Schmeichel’s gloves, going closest when the Leicester keeper easily saved a Duffy header from Brady’s corner.
Eriksen meanwhile picked his moments and his passes. He set up chances for Sisto anfd Jorgsensen before completing Ireland’s misery, and ending their World Cup, with another wonderful strike from outside the area, this time with his left foot. Sisto supplied the pass but Eriksen provided the magic.
And he provided his hat-trick 17 minutes from time when Ward managed to cut out a speculative Jorgensen cross into the area but merely stopped the ball and set up the Spurs man perfectly. He smashed the ball into the net, this time with his right.
O’Neill sent on Shane Long just before that and he did have one chance to soften the blow but the striker, who has yet to score for club or country this season, floated a shot over with just Schmeichel to beat.
Late substitute Bendtner completed the rout in the 90th minute when he converted his own penalty into the top corner after he was tripped by McClean.