Christian Eriksen scores a hat-trick as superb Denmark end Republic of Ireland's 2018 World Cup dreamChristian Eriksen scores a hat-trick as superb Denmark end Republic of Ireland's 2018 World Cup dream
It was the night when Christian Eriksen sent his country back to the greatest stage in football, and might well have announced his final ascension as one of the greatest players in the world, someone who should really be on that kind of stage.
The Tottenham Hotspur star - for that is now what he undeniably is - scored an emphatically supreme hat-trick to devastate Ireland 5-1 at Lansdowne Road and put Denmark in the hat for the World Cup draw.
The 25-year-old brilliantly and brutally exposed every single Irish error, of which there were many.
The biggest mistake Ireland might actually have made was going ahead so early through Shane Duffy and firing such a response from the playmaker, before Martin O’Neill bizarrely responded to going 2-1 down by hauling off the entire defensive midfield and delivering Eriksen the freedom of the pitch, but the reality was that there were much more basic Irish mistakes for every single Danish strike.
They only stood in starker contrast to the supreme quality of all Eriksen’s finishes.
All of the Irish fighting spirit that had been so talked about just couldn’t match that kind of finesse, as their supposed defensive resilience was reduced to an utter irrelevance. Ireland had run out of luck, and Eriksen ran the show.
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How the game had changed, after the total 180-degree turn that came in the space of the 180 seconds between Denmark’s first goal and their second.
Ireland really couldn’t have got a better start, and not just because of the lead, or the fact it was a Danish player in Nicolai Jorgenson who actually teed Shane Duffy up with an atrociously skewed clearance. It was what the lead should have allowed them to, how it should have allowed them to play on their best qualities, that they have only developed over a defiant end to this campaign.
It was a deafening beginning to this occasion, and only got louder on five minutes. Then, Robbie Brady swung in a free, and Jorgenson got a curious connection on it than only saw the ball curl into the air. Even it curled invitingly, though, it still required a lot of courage from Duffy to get up above Kasper Schmeichel and nod in.
Ireland were in front, and now should have been set up to sit back resiliently, in the way that has earned them so much respect from opponents.
Except, perhaps emboldened by the goal, or maybe conscious of Martin O’Neill’s pre-game proclamation that they would need two, they didn’t play so deep.
It meant they would soon need three.
Ireland did miss some good half-chances through Daryl Murphy and James McClean, but the initiative required to push like that meant that there was just that bit more space on the flanks at the back - and that was where Denmark did the damage.
Pione Sisto would have done particular damage to Harry Arter’s ego after 28 minutes, and got the best possible revenge for a heavy challenge from the Bournemouth midfielder in the opening moments, when he so fluidly nutmegged Arter to create panic in the Irish box.
There still should have been too many bodies in the way for Denmark to score but that only ended up helping the ball over the line. Although Andreas Christensen couldn’t get a clean connection on his eventual shot from just yards out, Cyrus Christie couldn’t get a clean clearance, and only put the ball over his own line.
Ireland now really had to score another, had to step up, but it only led to a misstep - and a display of the real difference between the sides, as well as a display of brilliant sweeping football. Just three minutes after Christie’s own goal, Stephen Ward arguably committed a worse error in getting caught on the half way line.
Eriksen played the ball onto Yussuf Poulsen, who then fed Jorgensen, who put the ball through for Eriksen - of course - to curl in off the underside of the crossbar.
The Irish gameplan was left in pieces by, well, the Tottenham playmaker’s masterpiece.
And this was the other problem for Ireland now. They would have to push on even more, as signalled by O’Neill’s removal of his entire defensive for Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan… but that of course only granted Eriksen even more space, more of a canvas. He began to use, playing one brilliant pass just after half-time, embarrassing an Irish defender with a turn moments later.
Against that kind of scintillating ability, Ireland mostly only had set-pieces. On 54 minutes, one was swung in again for the head of Duffy, but Schmeichel was this time able to pound it away.
It was at this stage that O’Neill’s half-time moves began to look too cavalier, and the decision to bring on McGeady just confounding. The Sunderland winger seemed perfectly positioned to swing in a cross for one encouraging Ireland move, only for a weak delivery to be easily cleared and thereby just create a chance for Eriksen.
That was beaten away by Randolph but the goalkeeper could do nothing about the next effort, as Eriksen supremely picked his spot on 63 minutes. He was the pick of these two teams.
Nicklas Bendtner then scored a spot-kick to really complete the rout, but it was the most complete player on the pitch who had given Denmark their spot in Russia.
That is what the great players do. That is why it would have been wrong had he missed out on this stage at this burgeoning stage of his career. But then setting it right is what players of his calibre do.
The World Cup will see Denmark, and another star.