Age Hareide’s Denmark pulled off arguably the shock of Europe’s 2018 World Cup Qualification campaign in the final game of it at The Aviva Stadium last night, by trouncing The Republic of Ireland 1-5 to Qualify for next summer’s Tournament.
They did so in some fashion as Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen netted an incredible hat-trick and things were finished off from the spot late on by Nicklas Bendtner after a gut-wrenching Cyrus Christie own-goal had started the Danish charge.
But, things could have been oh so different for Martin O’Neill’s men as they seized an early lead through Shane Duffy and had chances after that, eventually having their hopes of reaching a fourth World Cup Finals blown away in the midst of pure delight for the Danes.
Heading into the Play-Off second leg things had been all square after a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen on Saturday evening, but four days later, it couldn’t have been different in a mouth-watering affair for the neutral.
From the start in the Irish Capital, O’Neill decided on one alteration from the aforementioned Saturday draw at The Parken Stadium.
Coming back into the team was returning Captain David Meyler who replaced youngster Callum O’Dowda, while the man responsible for Ireland making it this far, James McClean proved the danger man in attack, alongside Darren Randolph in goal.
Whereas, Hareide made two changes to his starting Xl in the wake of the first leg stalemate on home turf.
Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen came into the team at the cost of Peter Ankersen and Yussuf Poulsen took the place of former Cardiff City forward Andreas Cornelius in the attacking department for the Danish visitors.
On a chilly night at Ireland’s showcase Aviva Stadium, there would be a dream start for the hosts within just six minutes, one that would raise the roof on The Arena.
Burnley man Robbie Brady lifted a long-range free-kick into the box and when Nicolai Jorgensen couldn’t clear properly, the ball floated perfectly to Duffy, who flicked a header past the advancing Kasper Schmeichel to break the deadlock.
But, the lead wouldn’t last for long as the Danish went in immediate search of a leveller and finally got their reward shortly after, with Pione Sisto ghosting in on the left and finding Christensen, whose toe-poke hit the post and rebounded off Christie for an unfortunate own-goal.
The away Nation were now ahead on away goals in the tie and if things had stayed the same, they were heading to Russia, but Denmark wanted to get there emphatically.
Just four minutes later, a Poulsen counter attack shifted the ball on to Jorgensen, who found Eriksen to finish wondrously off the bar and increase his side’s stranglehold on the tie.
The Republic’s defensive frailties were very clear to see, and the Danes were able to exploit them once more early in the second period to put the game to bed.
Sisto, again the creator, picked out Eriksen on the edge of the area and in trademark style, the Spurs man seemingly passed it with grace into Randolph’s bottom left-hand corner.
It would be four and a trio of goals for the visitors’ playmaker on 72 minutes in a move that summed up the evening for Ireland as Jorgensen’s ball forward was handily teed up for Eriksen by Claret Stephen Ward, with the No10 arriving on the scene to ruthlessly smash the ball past Randolph for his 11th of qualifying.
The irony being that the Irish keeper had won Man of the Match for the clean sheet he kept in the first leg.
Things were well and truly rounded off by Bendtner just before added time, the former Arsenal forward was fouled by McClean as he entered the box and left to coolly convert from the spot, scoring the final goal on a historic night for Danish Football.
But, on the flip side, a Nation’s disappointment was felt on home turf at full-time, bowing out in such dramatic terms, however, it was a night to remember for a very long time indeed for Denmark.
They will be appearing in their fifth World Cup come June in Russia and will now only have to wait just over two weeks to find out who they will face in The Group Stages when the First Round Draw takes place in Moscow on Friday 1 December.