Denmark qualifies for World Cup with 5-1 rout of Ireland
By NATHANIEL COPE
DUBLIN (AP) Christian Eriksen scored a superb hat trick as Denmark qualified for next year's World Cup with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Ireland in their playoff on Tuesday.
With last week's first leg having finished 0-0, Ireland made an ideal start to the return match by taking the lead in the sixth minute through defender Shane Duffy.
But Denmark's players gradually took control in midfield and were rewarded when Andreas Christensen's effort went into the net off Ireland's Cyrus Christie in the 29th minute.
Eriksen then stole the show, putting the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute, and scoring two more after the break.
Nicklas Bendtner turned a deserved victory into a rout when he converted a penalty in the 90th minute.
Next year's tournament in Russia will be Denmark's fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010.
Denmark coach Age Hareide paid tribute to Eriksen, who has been on fine form this season for Tottenham in the Premier League and the Champions League.
Asked Eriksen's world ranking as a player, Hareide said: "Absolutely in the top 10. It is difficult to rank, but we saw him against Real Madrid. He is probably one of the best players in his position in Europe at the moment.
"All the teams that succeed and go to a World Cup have star players, and players that can make the difference and Christian showed that today."
Yet a raucous home crowd in Dublin had been treated to the perfect start when Robbie Brady's free kick from just beyond the halfway line was flicked on by Denmark's Nicolai Jorgensen. The ball rose into the path of center back Duffy, who headed home.
Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney had said after the first leg that breaching the Ireland defense was like "opening a can of baked beans with your bare hands - it takes time".
This time, their perseverance eventually paid off in the 29th minute.
Pione Sisto went past Harry Arter after a short corner and pulled the ball back for Christensen, whose touch just managed to send the ball over the line despite Christie's efforts to try and divert it away.
Three minutes later, Yussef Poulsen showed good tenacity to steal possession off Stephen Ward, before exchanging passes with Jorgensen. The ball was worked to the left, where Eriksen struck a first-time shot into the net via the crossbar - giving Ireland keeper Darren Randolph no chance.
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill made two changes at the break as his team tried to chase the game. It made for an open contest, but it played into Denmark's hands.
The contest was over in the 63rd minute when Sisto picked out Eriksen. The Tottenham forward was given too much time on the edge of the area and fired the ball home - with Ciaran Clark and Duffy unable to reach him.
It was a match to forget for Ward, who failed to control a cross and allowed Eriksen to race onto the loose ball and rifle it into the top corner in the 74th minute.
The hat trick brought Eriksen's total in this World Cup qualifying campaign to 11.
A bad night for Ireland was compounded when James McClean gave away a penalty for a foul on Bendtner, with the former Arsenal striker scoring from the spot.
"We were well beaten," O'Neill said. "We fought tooth and nail to try and get into this position. This was a playoff to take us to the World Cup, I have to commend the players for getting this far."
Meanwhile, Hareide can look forward to the tournament in Russia with optimism.
"We have played since October 2016 with no defeats and I think that the team gets stronger and stronger," he said. "We are looking forward to the World Cup... I think it will be an interesting and fascinating time to go there and take this team".
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Updated November 14, 2017