Monday, May 30, 2011
Ireland are Carling Nations Cup champions
Robbie Keane's 49th international goal saw Ireland claim the inaugural Carling Nations Cup with a 1-0 win over Scotland.
Keane grabbed the winner midway through the first half after running 30 yards and firing low under Allan McGregor.
The skipper's place in the history books in international goals scored owes much to the work of the much-maligned Paul McShane.
The defender broke up a Scottish attack, produced several tricks before continuing his surge upfield, which allowed Keane run unchallenged to the edge of the Scottish box.
Despite some frantic late defending, Ireland managed to keep the Scots at bay, although poor finishing from Miller and James Forrest helped.
Victory saw Ireland pick up their first international trophy at senior level since May 1986, when they saw off Iceland and Czechoslovakia in Reykjavik.
That success marked the beginning of a golden period for Irish football and qualification campaign for Euro 88. Giovanni Trapattoni will hope that history repeats itself.
Apart from Ireland's celebrations with the trophy, this tournament has produced few champagne moments. Yet, this was the best game of the competition that has failed to capture the public's imagination.
It had little of the tedium that usually accompanies end of season friendlies, with a vocal Tartan Army doing their bit to heighten the atmosphere.
Giovanni Trapattoni made four changes to the side that thrashed Northern Ireland as Darren O'Dea, Keith Fahey, Liam Lawrence and Stephen Hunt made the starting XI.
Scotland also made four changes as Craig Levein introduced Phil Bardsley and Barry Robson, as well as giving first starts to Grant Hanley and Forrest.
Both sides created openings in the early exchanges, with Charlie Adam and Bardsley trying their luck from range, the latter being brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Given.
At the other end, Simon Cox and Hunt could have done better with half-chances that fell their way.
Scotland were stronger in possession, but once again it was Keane who fired Ireland in front midway through the half.
McShane brushed off Naismith and weaved past Forrest before setting Keane away on a 30-yard run, which ended with the skipper's shot sneaking under McGregor.
The visitors continued to press and Given was called on to keep out Adam's free-kick and another well-struck effort from Naismith.
Scotland were lucky not to go two down after the break when they were caught out by Hunt's quick free-kick to Cox. The striker dragged his shot across the front of goal from ten yards.
Adam, who had been an injury doubt before kick-off, struggled to orchestrate play from deep and was replaced by Barry Bannan midway through the second half.
Barry Robson's in-swinging cross gave Forrest a chance to cap his debut with an equaliser, but the young winger volleyed wide with the goal at his mercy.
The pace of the game slowed and Trapattoni also introduced fresh legs from the bench, with the arrival of Seamus Coleman and Kevin Foley for Lawrence and O'Dea.
Miller had a strong penalty claim turned down when it appeared that Hunt had held him back by the arm. The Scottish striker's protestations earned him a booking.
But Scotland's passion was reignited after that, as first Naismith shinned a volley wide and then Miller drew another parry from Given.
The final chance of a frantic late period fell Miller's way when Naismith put him clean through. The striker held off Stephen Kelly but placed his shot wide of the post and a sprawling Given.
The win and clean sheet will undoubtedly give Ireland confidence and belief for next Saturday's crucial Euro 2012 qualifier in Macedonia.
However, the absence of Richard Dunne from Ireland's back four will be a big blow, with Kelly and a rusty O'Dea likely to be called upon to keep the qualification campaign on track.
Republic of Ireland: 1 Given; 2 McShane, 4 Kelly, 5 O'Dea (12 Foley '66), 3 Ward; 7 Lawrence (13 Coleman 62), 6 Fahey, 8 Andrews, 11 Hunt; 9 Cox, 10 Keane (15 Treacy '83).
Subs not used: 14 Delaney, 16 Forde, 17 Keogh, 18 St Ledger, 23 Randolph.
Booked: McShane, Fahey, Foley.
Scotland: 1 McGregor; 2 Whittaker, 4 Berra, 5 Hanley, 3 Bardsley; 7 Forrest (17 McCormack '86), 8 Brown, 10 Adam (16 Bannan '63), 6 Robson (19 Maguire '75); 11 Naismith; 9Miller.
Subs not used: 12 Gilks, 13 McArthur, 14 Caldwell, 15 Wilson, 20 Martin, 21 Turner.
Booked: Adam, Miller.