With Russia managing only a point against Armenia earlier in the day, Giovanni Trapattoni knew that a win would ensure Ireland’s chances of qualification would continue to burn bright, and though the Italian will point to the tight scoreline as a reason to be cautious, the Irish will be good value to reach Euro 2012 if they continue to be as inventive on the pitch as this.
The creativity down the flanks of Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff, and the constant threat of Robbie Keane up front, was more than the lowly Macedonians could cope with, and although the Irish lost Kevin Doyle in the first half to a suspected knee injury, they had a number of chances to establish a greater margin of victory.
The visitors could have also done without the errors of goalkeeper Edin Nuredoniski, but the goalkeeper helped in McGeady’s effort just 84 seconds into the game, before spilling a Darron Gibson free-kick into Keane’s path to hand the West Ham striker a simple goal. However, Ireland failed to capitalise on their dominance, and Macedonia were unlucky not to leave with a point.
It is perhaps that inability to finish off the game that will worry Trapattoni going forward, as he will know his side will come up against better opponents before a possible trip to Poland and Ukraine. Even with Inter striker Goran Pandev, Macedonia were unable to take the numerous chances they created in the second half.
If they had been as threatening in the first 45 minutes, Ireland could have been left sweating towards the end of the game. Kieran Westwood, making his senior international debut, made a number of vital saves as the game came to its conclusion, Richard Dunne had to be at his best alongside another senior debutant in Darren O’Dea as the home defence came under attack in the closing stages. The tension was clear in the 30,000 fans that packed into the Aviva Stadium, the noise level rising nervously as Macedonia pushed forward.
Ireland must therefore look to make a more concerted effort in the final third in the rest of the qualifying campaign, or else they will surely be punished by the likes of Russia. All too often, Damien Duff’s productivity was wasted, Shane Long perhaps the guiltiest of parties with a number of misses. James McCarthy, on as a late substitute and consequently confirming his international allegiance to the ROI, also had a chance to put the game further out of Macedonia’s reach.
As it was, Trapattoni will be left to take the rough with the smooth from this game. The Italian will be happy with the three points, but will know his side must improve if they are to qualify for the European Championships.