Denmark boss Age Hareide expressed his amazement at counterpart Martin O’Neill’s tactics after his Christian Eriksen-inspired side hammered error-strewn Republic of Ireland to destroy their dreams of reaching next year’s World Cup finals.
Irish hopes of qualifying for a first World Cup since 2002 were given a boost by an early Shane Duffy opener, but a Cyrus Christie own goal, Eriksen hat-trick and a late penalty from former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner turned the tide in favour of a rampant Denmark.
O’Neill surprisingly dispensed with the more pragmatic tactics he employed during Saturday’s first leg in Copenhagen, which had stifled Tottenham playmaker Eriksen, in favour of a more expansive game-plan that ultimately backfired.
“I was surprised because they played with a diamond in midfield with two forwards,” said Norwegian Hareide. “We have centre-halves who can handle two forwards and that gave a lot of space in the centre of midfield and for Eriksen.
“I just want to say thank you very much for giving us the space. They locked us down on Saturday very well and Eriksen was more or less out of the game. Today he was fantastic.”
O’Neill, however, defended his tactics and stopped short of admitting the result was a humiliation. “I would say we were well beaten,” said the former Celtic manager. “We had to go for it. There is no point dying wondering. We are capable of coming back from this.”
The Republic, who qualified for the 2002 World Cup through the play-offs, made a dream start as hapless defending of Robbie Brady’s free-kick on six minutes saw the ball loop towards goal, enabling Duffy to rise above Kasper Schmeichel and head home.
But elation turned to despair very quickly and there was a taste of things to come as goalkeeper Darren Randolph was forced into evasive action to repel efforts from William Kvist and Pione Sisto.
The Irish came close a second through Daryl Murphy and then James McClean but Denmark drew level shortly before the half hour mark when Andreas Christensen’s stabbed effort from Sisto’s cross squirmed over the line via the post and the unlucky Christie.
Denmark had turned the clash on its head by the 32nd minute as Stephen Ward was dispossessed and Yussuf Poulsen and Nicolai Jorgensen combined to find Eriksen, who fired sumptuously past Randolph from 18 yards.
The majestic Eriksen all but settled matters shortly after the hour mark as he unleashed a left-footed curler from the edge of the penalty area. He then completed his treble on 73 minutes as more terrible defending from Ward allowed the 25-year-old the opportunity to rifle high past Randolph, and he duly obliged. The final blow was struck by Bendtner as he calmly converted a late penalty.