Ger McCarthy shares what we learned from Ireland's clash with Denmark...
It was far from pretty and difficult to watch at times yet the bottom line is that the Republic of Ireland’s qualifying campaign ended in failure on a rainy Tuesday night in Dublin.
Martin O’Neill and his backroom team can expect plenty of criticism as an Irish squad containing sufficient experience and skill failed to reach a first World Cup since 2002.
There can be no getting away from the fact Ireland struggled badly at home to Georgia, Wales, Serbia and Moldova. Add to that an overly defensive performance in Copenhagen and O’Neill’s safety-first approach will be under increased scrutiny in the coming weeks.
Two goals in three first half minutes demonstrated Denmark’s lethal attacking ability en route to securing their place at World Cup 2018.
This may not be a Danish side of the 1986 vintage when Preben Elkjaer, Jesper Olsen, Soren Lerby, Jan Molby and Michael Laudrup tore up the Mexico World Cup or 1992 when Brian Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel and John Jensen became European champions.
Yet, the 2017 Danish side has many qualities, not least their defensive solidity, backboned by another Schmeichel, Kasper. A hard-working midfield unit helped the Danes win six times and draw twice in their qualification group and any team with Christian Eriksen amongst its ranks always has a chance of winning.
A five-man passing move that emanated deep in Irish territory and ended with James McClean latching on to a perfectly weighted Robbie Brady deivery had the crowd on its feet after 23 minutes.
The West Bromwich Albion winger angled his shot inches past an upright but that brief cameo showed what Ireland are capable of when unafraid to pass their way out of trouble.
The bitter truth however, is that apart from that move and one or two counter-attacks, Ireland barely troubled Denmark over the two play-off legs. Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady’s second half introductions improved things for a time but the reality is that this Irish team, under Martin O’Neill, appear incapable or confident enough to get the ball down and play.
In Christian Eriksen, Denmark possesses a player of genuine quality, underlined by the Tottenham Hotspur playmaker’s magnificent three finishes to confirm his country’s victory at the Aviva Stadium.
The Spurs attacking midfielder has flourished under Mauricio Pochettino and carried his club form onto the international stage, popping up with crucial goals in wins over Armenia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Montenegro and Ireland.
Denmark will be no pushover in Russia next summer and could cause a shock or two with Eriksen pulling the strings.
Ireland only managed twelve goals during their qualification run, the third worst record in Group D, with James McClean (4) and Daryl Murphy (3) netting the bulk of that total.
Martin O’Neill will point to his side’s defensive record - six goals conceded in eleven competitive internationals prior to Tuesday night’s aberration - but cannot avoid the fact Ireland still don’t possess a striker of Robbie Keane’s calibre.
Shane Long, Jonathan Walters, Daryl Murphy, Sean Maguire and David McGoldrick are not consistent scorers at the highest level but represent O’Neill’s current first-choice forwards.
Unearthing a new striker or enabling an existing squad member to regain his scoring touch is an absolute necessity ahead of our next qualifying series.
Some of the countries that have failed to make it to Russia 2018: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, USA, Chile, Paraguay, Netherlands, Italy, Northern Ireland, Wales, Czech Republic, Scotland, Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland.