If the Republic of Ireland are to make it to France next summer, it will have to be via the play-offs after Martin O’Neill’s charges went down 2-1 in Poland.
The Irish needed to either win or play out a high-scoring draw (minimum 2-2) if they were to secure automatic qualification from Group D. However, it was Poland who started brightly, with Robert Lewandowski a threat from the first whistle.
Indeed, it only took 13 minutes for the hosts to take the lead, with Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak firing home from the edge of the box after slack marking from the Irish.
However, within three minutes the visitors were level, with Jonathan Walters netting from the penalty spot after a high boot caught Shane Long in the face, although the contact did take place marginally outside the Polish box.
Poland always looked more of a threat in the first-half, however, and took the lead just before the break, courtesy of a superb bullet header from Lewandowski. That goal was the Bayern hitman’s 13th in the campaign, equalling David Healy’s record for Northern Ireland set in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Gran jugada de Polonia y golazo de Robert Lewandowski, el nº15 en 6 partidos pic.twitter.com/EI62YFOXuS
— Fútbol (@MuyFutbolizados) October 11, 2015
After the break, Martin O’Neill sent on Robbie Keane (for the injured Shane Long) and Aiden McGeady before the hour-mark as he looked to get that all-important equaliser.
As the visitors pushed forward, the Poles looked a threat on the break, with Kamil Grosicki forcing a superb save out of Darren Randolph.
On 73 minutes, Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan was sent on as the Irish improved. Then, with 10 minutes to go, a McGeady cross set up Richard Keogh, only for the Derby County defender to head straight at Lukasz Fabianksi.
Late on captain John O’Shea saw red after a second booking as the Poles held out to secure their place in the finals next summer.
As for the Boys in Green, they face the play-offs (without O’Shea) hoping to make it to France after a dramatic, rollercoaster of a campaign. So near and yet so far for the Irish…