Ireland concluded a dramatic final series of games in Group C with a hammering at the hands of a classy German outfit led by Chelsea target Jann-Fiete Arp.
As the players slumped on the pitch at the final whistle, however, a rescue remedy from an unlikely source landed.
Bosnia-Herzegovina had pinched a late winner against Serbia in Kostrena to crush their neighbours’ prospects of sealing a quarter-final berth.
Armin Imamovic’s last-minute winner not only gave them the Balkan bragging rights but changed the mood five miles away in Rijeka.
There, Ireland’s players broke out in sheepish smiles at the turn of events.
O’Brien’s young guns will likely never again rejoice after such a pasting in their football careers.
It wasn’t that a Bosnian win would do Ireland a favour — only that specific scoreline. Had the permutation from the other match played simultaneously been, for example, 2-0 or 2-1, then Ireland were out.
Rather than heading home now, the Boys in Green switch base from the Croatian coast to the capital of Zagreb for Saturday’s crunch tie.
They will meet an England side who not only came into the tournament as one of the favourites but are backing that up.
Yesterday, they strolled past the Netherlands 3-0 to confirm their status as group winners with a maximum nine points.
“We’ve got another chance here in the tournament and are taking it with both hands,” said O’Brien.
“We’re a better team than we showed today but we’re into the quarter-finals, which Ireland hadn’t achieved at this tournament for almost 20 years.”
That tournament of 1998 ended in glory for an Ireland team that included John O’Shea and Andy Reid.
Whether this side can transform into title contenders remains a long shot considering how far off the pace they were yesterday.
The rout began after just eight minutes when Elias Abouchabaka broke their resistance following good work by American-born Maurice Malone.
One of the stars of the tournament, striker Jann-Fiete Arp, was given too much room to pick his spot for Germany’s second with 15 minutes gone. Disaster followed when Ireland captain Lee O’Connor sent an attempted clearance into his own net six minutes later.
Strikers Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah were starved of service up front, leaving Ireland reliant on the odd set-piece they fashioned to mount a response.
But they went four behind moments into the second half as Arp finished Abouchabaka’s cross.
The Chelsea target bagged his second hat-trick in three matches four minutes later by stroking Sahverdi Cetin’s tee-up beyond Brian Maher and the scoring was completed by midfield powerhouse Jonah Awuku and substitute Erik Hottmann.
“We expected Germany to dominate, but we did not expect such a big defeat,” admitted O’Brien.
B Maher (St Patrick’s Ath); L O’Connor (Manchester Utd), J Doherty (Sheffield Utd), N Collins (Stoke City), K Ledwidge (St Kevin’s Boys); L Nolan (St Patrick’s Ath), A Bolger (Shamrock Rovers), R O’Farrell (St Patrick’s Ath), A Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion); R Roache (Blackpool); A Idah (Corinthian Boys).
G Kilkenny (Bournemouth) for O’Connor (54 mins), C Thompson (Wolves) Roache (70 mins).
Plogmann; Becker, Mai (Ludewig 66), Boller Hackethal; Nitzl, Cetin (Majetschak 53); Awuku, Abouchbaka (Hottmann 57), Malone; Arp.
F Verissimo (POR)