End of World for Republic as Danes dish out a pasting
Regret starts this morning.
What could have been the greatest Dublin night descended into a contender for one of the worst.
If the path to this point was defined by brutal efficiency, this was a brutal kind of failure.
The brilliance of Christian Eriksen, a genuine superstar, sealed Ireland's fate.
But in a game that was billed as the type of affair where the first goal would be vital, the hosts managed to get that and still ended up suffering a dreadful humiliation.
They wound up as a shapeless mess, devoid of all the characteristics that brought them to the brink of Russia. When it mattered, they were miles off.
Too often, Irish football state of the nation debates revolve around the manager when problems run deeper than that.
In the dying stages of this horror show, Martin O'Neill had four 30-somethings on the pitch and it could be argued they were the best options available.
Don't lose sight of that.
But for a manager who prides himself on organisation, this was an abomination.
The leap from conservative to cavalier exposed deficiencies. Ireland simply didn't know what they were doing.
In the painful post-mortem that will follow, O'Neill will battle revisionism and will counter that Ireland were the only fourth seeds to reach the play-offs. That will be the go-to point if any fresh questions are raised about his future and the new contract which still hasn't been signed.
Regrettably, the emphatic nature of this defeat diminishes the status of the great wins in Vienna and Cardiff because this is a campaign that will forever be a case of what could have been.
Two games with Denmark to reach a World Cup is the most attractive route that has been presented to a generation.
Age Hareide's men were better than they showed in Copenhagen, much more technically assured when they were allowed to breathe. Irish ineptitude allowed them to do that. O'Neill and his squad will have plenty of time to digest the horrible after-taste.
But it all started so well when Shane Duffy headed Ireland into a fifth-minute lead.
The journey from heaven to hell lasted less than half an hour. After a guttural roar to mark the end of the anthems, Ireland sprung from the blocks with a surprise.
David Meyler's selection ahead of Callum O'Dowda was the only personnel shift but the formation was altered with James McClean sent in as a second striker next to Daryl Murphy.
It shone for six minutes, albeit with the help of a comical Danish error. A halfway line free for a foul on Murphy struck gold when the subsequent delivery into the area was misjudged by Nicolai Jorgensen and Duffy did the rest.
The break was not seized upon. Denmark were fluid and sharper in possession which opened space on the flanks. Brady and Meyler were sucked infield chasing the ball.
With the Scandinavians moving it quicker, Ireland's full backs were exposed and Cyrus Christie really struggled. Pressure forced chances with Randolph saving from William Kvist and Pione Sisto. The signs were ominous.
But there was a brief window where Ireland could have taken the decisive step to Russia.
There was passing, movement, chances - and when Murphy flicked a Christie delivery into the side netting, pockets of the crowd thought it was a goal.
It was the simple things that killed Ireland. The demise started with a short corner, with Harry Arter on his own as Denmark rolled the ball into play and then nutmegged by the skilful Sisto who sent a cross that was scuffed goalwards by the recalled Andreas Christensen and helped over the line by Christie who couldn't get his feet in the right position.
On Saturday, the Middlesbrough man said it was unfair that Seamus Coleman was referenced in the context of his performances but the skipper was missed badly here.
The real killer was that Ireland conceded another goal before they had even recovered from the first. Stephen Ward was caught in possession and his attempt to take the ball away from Yussuf Poulsen was unsuccessful.
The error will live in the memory because of how the interception was utilised, with Jorgensen atoning for his early woe by teeing up Christian Eriksen who produced a moment befitting of his status to angle the ball into its intended destination via the underside of the crossbar.
Danish elation was matched by Irish deflation.
O'Neill rolled the dice at the interval - there was no other option. An extremely bold call was made to bring in both Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady with Meyler and Arter sacrificed. Hoolahan was thrust next to Murphy, and we were now a world away from Copenhagen with oceans of space and Ireland consistently on the brink of disaster.
What happened next was inevitable. Eriksen slid between the lines to curl a superb effort beyond Randolph. Ward, who was switched to the centre when Clark was withdrawn to make way for Long, then lost his footing to allow the 25-year-old claim the match ball with a powerful right footer.
Nicklas Bendtner came in for the lap of honour and was felled by McClean, quickly dusting himself down to smash home a penalty past Darren Randolph.