Irish pain as sucker punch puts ‘lucky’ Danes through
Ireland 1 Denmark 1
If 2017 was humiliation, then this was just deflation. Another Danish party in Dublin, another tale of Irish regret.
Age Hareide's confession that his side were "lucky" this time around was of no consolation to the home players that were slumped on the turf at full-time, devastated by a near miss that leaves their Euro dreams in jeopardy.
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Mick McCarthy's side flirted with hope by doing more than just keeping this game alive heading into the final quarter.
There were passages of play that suggested a Danish side which only needed a point were feeling the pressure.
"I don't know what happened with us," admitted Hareide.
But the optimism was extinguished in a heartbeat. The game was starting to open up as Ireland's need for a goal grew, but Denmark hadn't created a chance of substance before the otherwise excellent Matt Doherty snoozed and Shane Duffy hesitated as a 73rd-minute ball from Henrik Dalsgaard left Darren Randolph rooted and allowed Martin Braithwaite to score.
Ireland recovered from the setback, with Doherty atoning for the error by levelling things with five minutes to go. Duffy was thrown up front for the duration in a desperate attempt to nab the winner.
But a Danish side that rarely lose just about regrouped to thwart an Ireland side that is condemned to the uncertainty of the play-offs after a year when they failed to register a big win.
They will need two of them - back-to-back - in March if they are to figure in a major tournament on home soil next summer.
This display showed they can make life uncomfortable for good opposition when they are fully tuned in. But there's still a lack of attacking ingenuity that will have to be addressed for what is coming down the tracks.
"How many goals have we scored? Seven? That's quite clearly not clinical enough," said McCarthy, accurately summarising the story of the Group D campaign.
McCarthy's side are certain to be on the road for the play-off semi, where they are likely to face the kind of atmosphere that they tried to create here.
The early signs were encouraging. He had opted to solve his problem on the right side of midfield by selecting Alan Browne in that area, a decision that gave Ireland the option to be prepared for Denmark flooding the centre when their wingers drifted inside.
McCarthy had spoken of his team operating a considered press when the opportunity presented itself and Ireland were certainly mindful of overcommitting, although the calming influence of David McGoldrick did help to encourage others into play.
Denmark didn't enjoy the opening minutes and the loss of Thomas Delaney to injury following a coming together with Browne further upset their plan. Andreas Cornelius also didn't make it to half-time, further impacting on Hareide's Plan A.
They had a reasonable spell midway through the half, and the Dublin crowd sensed a swing, with exuberance replaced by apprehension for a spell. McGoldrick looked to have the edge on Simon Kjaer in one-on-one battles, but he was forced back into the Irish half for a period.
Hareide's side weren't firing attacking wise, however, and their best opportunity before the break came from a long ball forward that dropped for Christian Eriksen, with his right-footed volley blocked by the head of Shane Duffy.
Otherwise, the Spurs player found it hard to impose with Glenn Whelan disciplined and supported by those around him.
Full-backs Doherty and Enda Stevens defended stoutly, while they were also involved in decent passages bringing the ball out from the back.
Doherty showed why he is such an accomplished Premier League performer with his confidence on the ball.
The half-time possession count of 51-49 in favour of the Danes reflected that Ireland were competing well. And they created the chance when an overhit McGoldrick's pass exposed Denmark's shakiness and the alert Conor Hourihane burst through but he was unable to wrap his left foot around a chance that would have better suited a natural right-footer.
Still, Ireland could be reasonably satisfied heading into the interval, although a calf injury for Egan resulted in a half-time exit with Ciaran Clark - a survivor from the 5-1 loss - drafted in for involvement that looked unlikely a month ago.
He was on the offensive just after his introduction, twice threatening from dead-ball situations that asked questions of the Danish rearguard with one Hourihane delivery causing chaos.
With half an hour to go, Ireland were in the ascendency. The point that Denmark required was starting to look like the maximum they would take from proceedings.
Callum Robinson was sent in for Hourihane in an attempt to turn the screw, with Hendrick dropping back from the number 10 berth to a defensive role. McCarthy dismissed the idea that the change had any impact on Braithwaite's strike.
"It had absolutely nothing to do with it," he said. " It comes from a throw-in, and a simple cross into the box."
Doherty was blamed by the manager, although Duffy indicated there was a communication breakdown too.
Either way, it was a disastrous concession. Ireland were shell-shocked temporarily, with Duffy urged to go forward as Seani Maguire was introduced for Whelan as caution was thrown to the wind.
Doherty made things interesting by getting on the end of a Stevens delivery to set up a grandstand finish, but Gibraltar are the only side in Group D to have conceded twice in one game against this Irish team. Denmark weren't going to allow that statistic to change.
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