The Republic of Ireland must go through the agony of a playoff if they are to reach Euro 2016 after becoming Robert Lewandowski’s latest victim in a 2-1 defeat to Poland in Warsaw this evening.
After a Jonathan Walters penalty cancelled out Grzegorz Krychowiak’s fine volley, the prolific Bayern Munich striker headed in a 42nd-minute winner to seal his country a top-two finish in Group D.
Although Ireland will feel hard done by following Thursday’s superb win over group-toppers Germany, who beat Georgia 2-1 tonight, Poland and Lewandowski arguably deserve automatic qualification.
The 27-year-old, who has now scored 15 times in his last six outings, banged in 13 goals throughout the campaign – a tally equal to David Healy’s record for Northern Ireland in 2008 qualifying.
It was another one of Poland’s stars who opened the scoring as Sevilla midfielder Krychowiak sent a superb volley into the bottom corner after he was picked out on the edge of the box from a corner.
Ireland equalised within two minutes after being awarded a controversial penalty for a high foot against Shane Long, although Michal Pazdan’s challenge appeared to be outside of the area.
Stoke City’s Walters stepped up to slot the spot kick into the bottom corner. At the other end, Lewandowski felt that he should have had a penalty of his own following a tangle with John O’Shea.
Lewandowski would have the last laugh though, as he headed Poland ahead just before the break after good work from Krzysztof Maczynski. This time, Martin O’Neill’s side could not muster a response.
Richard Keogh tamely nodded their best chance straight at Lukasz Fabianski, and the last 20 minutes were actually counterproductive for the Boys in Green as O’Shea was sent off for a second bookable offence and Walters shown a yellow card. Both are now suspended for the first leg of the playoff.
Ireland have lost in four of their previous six playoff experiences – most recently, and famously, when Thierry Henry’s handball helped France progress to the 2010 World Cup at the Irish’s expense.
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