Republic of Ireland 0
Republic of Ireland did a more than passable impression of the Self Preservation Society, somehow managing to come away from Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and its infamous astro turf pitch with a draw. It is not the greatest result for Giovanni Trapattoni’s men but it does – just – keep their European Championships 2012 qualification hope alive.
The match always had the makings of a vital clash in what has turned out to be an incredibly tight group – at the start of the day Russia were top with 16 points ahead of Ireland and Slovakia on 14, although this draw meant the latter could overtake them with a win over fourth-placed Armenia.
Going into the game Ireland’s players knew that the result would define not just their futures, but that of their Coach. Win and all is rosy. Lose and the Italian’s job goes crashing over a cliff. A draw would just prolong the agony.
One could sense the pressure in the build-up. Ireland have not lost a competitive game away from home since 2007 and had drawn their previous three games 0-0. When asked if a seventh consecutive clean sheet was his priority Trapattoni became, ironically, defensive. “No,” he snapped, before pointing out that his team had the most goals scored in the group.
The stress was quite probably increased by Roy Keane helpfully reminding the FAI that he was available for work by allowing himself to be courted by Iceland. The ex-Manchester United man would no doubt love the chance to replace Trapattoni and show Mick McCarthy exactly where he went wrong.
For a team that was supposedly not set up just to defend, Ireland did little else in the first-half, conceding 64% of possession to their hosts and allowing them 13 shots to their one.
In fact Russia should have had the game and the points in the bag by half-time, but there was to be no repeat of the five-goal thriller from when the teams met in Dublin last October. That is testament to the work Trapattoni has done in the last 11 months to build a team strong on discipline and team work.
Shay Given was immense throughout with two athletic, finger tip saves in the first-half from Andrei Arshavin and Igor Semshov. He also kept Ireland in the game with a point-blank stop from Roman Shirkov with three minutes to go. Given’s Aston Villa teammate Richard Dunne was equally statuesque, marshalling the backline despite being shorn of his usual defensive partner Sean St Ledger. Dunne made a crucial goal-line clearance again from Semshov.
Had the Irish had a little bit more invention in the second-half they could have snatched an unlikely rope-a-dope win but it was not to be.
Where does the result leave them now? On the edge of that cliff, relying on others, with their Euro 2012 goal in the balance and likely to slip out of their reach.
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