Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Slovakia 1 - Ireland 1

Ireland got their European 2012 qualifying campaign back on course with a battling draw against Slovakia in Zilina - but were left to rue Robbie Keane's missed penalty just before the end of the first half.

After Sean St Ledger's opener had been cancelled out by Jan Durica in the 36th minute, Ireland were handed a glorious chance to retake the lead in first-half stoppage time when Aiden McGeady was felled by The Slovakian goalkeeper, Jan Mucha.

But the goalkeeper made up for his error with a fine save, and, as Slovakia dominated most of the second half, Ireland were left hanging on for a point which keeps them level with their opponents in Group B.

Giovanni Trapattoni made two enforced changes from the side that lost 3-2 to Russia on Friday, with the injured Kevin Doyle and Liam Lawrence replaced by Shane Long and Keith Fahey. Both Long and Fahey impressed during the game and did not seem out of place in the starting eleven.

All the talk in the build-up to the match had been about the Ireland's perceived negative tactics against Russia and their reliance on the long ball. But they dominated possession in the early stages and, after a couple of scares when Kornel Salata headed over and Juraj Kucka shot wide, took a thoroughly deserved lead in the 16th minute.

Durica fouled the impressive Shane Long wide on the right and, when the Slovakia defence failed to deal with Fahey's free-kick, St Ledger squeezed a shot inside the post.

Midfield duo Whelan and Paul Green, who had struggled so badly against Russia, were better than their last outing, but their are clearly still big problems for Ireland in the central midfield area.

In the 36th minute, from their first corner of the game, Slovakia equalised as Hamsik's cross was flicked on for Durica to power a header in off the crossbar. Whelan was left somewhat exposed for the goal with none of the big Irish defenders guarding the back post.

Ireland should arguably should have retaken the lead four minutes later after great work from Long down the right but Keane could not get enough of a touch to turn it in. Keane is clearly suffering from the lack of first team football with Spurs and looked like a player who was missing that killer touch, that has served Ireland so well in the past.

Paul Green then picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Darron Gibson.

With the half entering injury time, Ireland were presented with a glorious chance to move back ahead when Mucha was adjudged to have brought down Aiden McGeady as he ran onto a through-ball from Richard Dunne.

Keane stepped up but his penalty was too close to the keeper, who made up for his mistake in the best possible fashion.

Slovakia started the second half with renewed purpose and Shay Given nearly paid the price for taking too long to clear as Stanislav Sestak closed in, with the ball cannoning off the striker but away from goal.

In a reverse of the first half, it was the The Boys In Green who were camped in their own half, with Whelan's ambitious volley from 40 yards the sum total of their efforts as the clocked reached 65 minutes.

Trapattoni made his first substitution in the 71st minute, bringing on Andy Keogh for the impressive Fahey, while his opposite number introduced Stoch and Filip Holosko.

Ireland had a good chance with five minutes to play when the ball broke to Keane eight yards out but, after turning smartly, the captain could not keep his shot down. And despite of the constant singing of Ireland's heroic 12th man (the supporters), who once again did the country proud with their unyealding support for the team, Ireland return home with a point.

But overall, a point is not the worst result for Ireland and they remain in the hunt for qualifiction, but with the Russian's scraping a lucky 1-0 win away in Macedonia this evening, they are clearly now the front runners to win group B.

For Trapattoni the problems surrounding the central midfield pairing continues to be a major concern with neither Whelan, Gibson or Green looking like the solution to the long term effectiveness of a strong, confident midfield. On the plus side, both Fahey and Long impressed with their positive play and direct style.

It is hoped that Trapattoni will use next month's friendly game aganst Norway to blood some of the new, upcoming players who are currently on the fringes of the squad like Marc Wilson, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. This will hopefully give the manager more options prior to our next qualification game against Macedonia in March 2011

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