Cody Gakpo and Wout Weghorst effectively ended the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualification hopes as the Netherlands came from behind to win in Dublin.
On a night when Ireland simply had to win, they flew at the Dutch and took an early lead when Adam Idah nervelessly converted a fourth-minute penalty awarded for handball against Virgil van Dijk.
However, Gakpo levelled from the spot after 19 minutes and after an unhappy Ronald Koeman had made a double half-time change, substitute Weghorst fired the visitors to a 2-1 victory as they recovered from a less than impressive opening 45 minutes to hold sway.
For Republic manager Stephen Kenny, a fourth defeat in five Group B games and just a single win means a trip to Germany next summer is only a mathematical possibility, with France having collected a maximum 15 points and the Dutch and Greece both sitting on nine.
Appointed in April 2020, Kenny, who received a mixed response from a crowd of 49,807 when his named was announced ahead of kick-off at the Aviva Stadium, set his sights on building a new-look side for this campaign but to be so far off the pace with three games left to play represents failure in that mission and his future looks bleak.
His team played with real endeavour, Idah giving Van Dijk a torrid examination in perhaps his best senior international display, but they were painfully exposed defensively by genuine quality for both goals and ultimately could not find the cutting edge to repeat their famous victory over the Dutch in 2001.
The Netherlands were fortunate to escape a second-minute mix-up at the back when Alan Browne forced an error and Idah, who had only the keeper to beat had he turned swiftly, instead fed Chiedozie Ogbene whose shot was blocked.
However, from the resulting corner, Van Dijk mistimed his jump and saw James McClean’s cross hit his arm, prompting referee Irfan Peljto to point to the spot, and Idah duly obliged by confidently sending keeper Mark Flekken the wrong way to get Ireland off to a dream start.
The home side maintained their high-octane start and Browne saw a 13th-minute header from Ogbene’s inviting cross blocked at source, but the visitors forced their way back into the game with their first move of any real quality.
Gakpo’s expertly-threaded pass split the Irish defence and allowed Denzel Dumfries to round exposed keeper Gavin Bazunu, who brought him down in his efforts to rescue the situation.
Peljto once again had little option to award a penalty and Bazunu was unable keep out Gakpo’s skidding attempt despite correctly diving to his left.
Van Dijk was fortunate to be awarded a free-kick after being dispossessed by Idah on the edge of his own penalty area, but Nathan Ake was penalised for hauling down the Norwich striker to allow Browne, who along with Jason Knight was making a real impact, to whip a 33rd-minute free-kick just wide.
Ake redeemed himself within seconds by throwing his body into the path of another Ogbene strike after Josh Cullen had mugged Frenkie de Jong on the edge of the box and fed Idah as the Netherlands played with fire once again.
Such was Ronald Koeman’s displeasure with what he had seen that he replaced Daley Blind and Mats Wieffer with Weghorst and Tijjani Reijnders before the restart, and the changes gave his side a better shape.
It took a fine sliding challenge by Browne to deny Xavi Simons a 52nd-minute strike at goal and an avoid an extension of Ireland’s recent record of conceding shortly after the break, but the increasingly influential De Jong fashioned the breakthrough 11 minutes into the second half.
The Barcelona midfielder’s lofted ball over the top was perfectly weighted for Dumfries to turn it across goal and allow Weghorst to stab past Bazunu.
Ireland’s sense of deflation was palpable and although they battled manfully to the whistle, they were unable to trouble Flekken unduly as the visitors eased their way across the finish line.