REPUBLIC of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny insisted his players did not deserve to have their Euro 2020 dreams shattered in Slovakia on a night when coronavirus made a late impact.
Strikers Aaron Connolly and Cork's Adam Idah were withdrawn from the squad shortly before kick-off after coming into close contact with a member of the backroom staff on the flight to Bratislava who later tested positive for Covid-19.
Ireland nevertheless enjoyed the better of a tight encounter at the Narodny Stadium and Slovakia, who were themselves without defender Milan Skriniar and midfielder Stanislav Lobotka because of the virus, needed the help of the woodwork to deny substitute and Leesider Alan Browne an extra-time winner as the game ended 0-0 and was ultimately decided on penalties.
Kenny told Sky Sports News: "The players didn't deserve to lose the game. They gave absolutely everything of themselves.
"Their work-rate was phenomenal and their determination to try to win tonight and get to the final was very evident. It's just a cruel way to lose on penalty kicks.
"The important thing is that this group of players gave everything for their country, they represented Ireland really well, they deserved to win the game, I felt, overall.
"To come away to Slovakia and deserve to win shows great fortitude and shows that we have got good players, and they deserved better.
"The stakes are high, the prize is absolutely huge and we can't get it back. You can't get it back - that's difficult to accept - but we just have to accept it, unfortunately. That's the reality."
Ireland left the stadium wondering what might have been on and off the pitch after Kenny had been forced to change his team at the last minute following the withdrawals of Connolly and Idah, who had both initially been named in the matchday 23.
He later revealed one had sat 1.7m and the other 1.9m from the member of staff who later tested positive on the plane to Slovakia and would have been allowed to play if they had been 2m away.
Asked about their absence, he said: "We have different rules in Ireland than you have in the UK, they're much more stringent.
"They would be deemed close contacts to one of our non-footballing staff, but it was just very, very harsh that they were ruled out. They were perfectly fine, there's nothing wrong with them, but they have the two metre rule in Ireland...
"If they were in the UK, they would have been perfectly entitled to play, but Ireland has more stringent rules and we had to abide by the medical advice."
Skipper Shane Duffy, who produced a fine goal-line clearance to deny substitute Lukas Haraslin the opening goal, admitted a 4-2 shoot-out defeat was a bitter pill to swallow.
The Celtic defender said: "It's never nice to lose on penalties, so it's a tough one to take at the minute. We created chances and it just wasn't our night."