Ireland overcome tricky Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrate

Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill, admitted that his side will need to find a win in their next two matches, against Germany and Poland respectively, to secure at least a playoff spot for next summers European Championship finals in France despite earning three points over Georgia in Dublin on Monday night.

The pace in the first half suggested this game was a friendly rather than an important European Championship qualifier. Both sides had chances but didn’t seem to have that killer instinct in front of goal. Ireland had the first real effort on goal early in the game. Wes Hoolahan worked his way into the box and played a lovely one-two with Jon Walters in the box before delivering a cross that was met by the foot of a diving Robbie Keane. The captain couldn’t connect with the ball correctly and his effort sailed over the crossbar, not troubling Georgia’s keeper, Nukri Revishvili.

Georgia fired back though and striker, Levan Mchedlidze had a couple efforts on goal but they were cleared with ease by the Irish defence. The visitors did have a few more efforts at Irish defence though. Their best effort came midway through the first half. Giorgi Navalovsky whipped in a cross that was met by Tornike Okriashvili, who attempted an audacious bicycle kick. His effort though didn’t connect and the ball dribbled wide.

It was deep into the first half that Ireland had their best effort of the game. After some back and forth in the Georgian box. The ball landed to Seamus Coleman. The Everton defender hit a half volley. His strike had some power behind it and it troubled Revishvili who could only punch the ball away.

The home side made the only change at half time. O’Neill decided to withdraw Keane and replace him with Shane Long up front. Jon Walters seemed to shift into a right side of midfield. The game did pick up in pace and the Irish were on top of the game and put pressure on the visitors from the whistle.

The Irish had numerous efforts on goal but they couldn’t get the power behind the shots. Coleman again had another effort to get on the score sheet. After working well to force his way into the Georgian area, the right back took a shot on goal. His effort was too soft though and was easily collected by Georgia’s keeper.

James McCarthy also failed to capitalise with his efforts on goal. The midfielder had a couple of chances on the edge of the box but he fluffed both efforts and they flew past the goal. McCarthy did not disguise his disgust at both efforts and he knows that he should have done better.

Then came the moment that defined the game. Jeff Hendrick starting from the left side of the pitch moved in and around the Georgian defence, something that resembled to Lionel Messi. He then reached the goal line and cut a short pass to Jon Walters. His effort seemed to deflect off a Georgian defender and rolled into the back of the net. You could see what the goal meant to the Stoke striker. He dashed towards the Irish fans to celebrate what is an important goal in Group D.

Georgia were forced to play the last 10 minutes with 10 men as they lost striker Mchedlidze to what seemed like a hamstring injury. The visitors still pressed for an equaliser late on but could not avail. Loud cheers from the stands greeted the final whistle. This result was another twist in the tale that has been the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Speaking after the game, O’Neill expressed his delight at coming away with three points from what was a tricky game. “We found a way to win in the second half. I thought we were very tentative in the first half. I’m not sure why we should be, having won on Friday. I thought we lacked energy in the first half and consequently created very little and that was a bit of a worry. The players came out strongly in the second half and we deserved to get the goal and we deserved to win the game,” said the Irish manager.

With world champions, Germany set to visit Dublin next month and a visit to Poland not long after, there is set to be more drama in what has turned out to be an interesting qualifying campaign. As O’Neill mentioned, a win in the final two games would all but secure at least a play off position for the Boys in Green, something one would not have expected after the fixture against Scotland in Dublin earlier this summer. However, that will not be an easy task against the two top teams in this group.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given, Coleman, O’Shea, Clark,Brady, Whelan, McCarthy, Hoolahan (McClean 74′), Hendrick, Keane (C) (Long 45′), Walters

Substitutes: Forde, Randolph,Wilson, McGeady, Meyler, Doyle, Christie, Ward, Quinn, Keogh

Goal: Walters (69′)

Yellow Cards: Whelan (74′), McClean (76′)

GEORGIA: Revishvili, Lobzhanidze, Kverkvelia, Kashia (Tsintsadze 75′), Amisulashvili, Khizanishvili (Kenia 80′), Kankava (C), Kazaishvili (Papunashvili 64′), Okriashvili, Navalovsky, Mchedlidze

Substitutes: Loria, Makaridze, Kakabadze, Popkhadze, Merebashvili, Tskhadadze, Vatsadze, Daushvili

Referee: István Vad (Hungary)

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Comfortable victory for Ireland as focus shifts towards Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrateOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland started the new season on the right foot as they defeated Oman 2-0 in the final friendly game ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia. However, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will be questioning why his squad could not put away more of the chances that were handed to his side throughout the 90 minutes.

Wednesday night saw a weakened starting XI with some of the key members of the squad left on the bench ahead of the test that awaits them in Tbilisi this weekend. However, there was a return for Everton’s Darron Gibson made a return to Aviva after being out of the squad for the last 10 months due to a mixture of injury and being disheartened by former manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The ‘Boys in Green’ started brightly in the opening exchanges as they pressed forward in search of an early goal. However, the Oman defence packed into the box and swatted off any attack on their goal. The Irish then drifted off as Oman went on the attack. An attempted pass by Stephen Quinn was blocked by referee, Illias Spathas, and Raed Saleh picked up the loose ball and paced down the wing and onto the edge of the box. He laid the ball off to Mohammed Al Siyabi, who struck it poorly and went wide of the returning Shay Given.

The first half was marred by some sloppy play by the Irish including a back pass by Robbie Brady to Given that went out of play for a corner. There were plenty of mistimed passes made by the Irish that would have gone punished if against sterner opponents, something that O’Neill must work on ahead of the forthcoming fixtures.

However, the Republic’s game improved slightly after the 19th minute when Brady whipped in a corner that was met by Kevin Doyle. His header sailed passed Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the back of the net. The Crystal Palace man marked his 60th game in the green jersey with his 14th international goal.

There were a few more chances in between but nothing could hit the target. The best chance to put the Irish further ahead, lay to David Meyler after Brady’s cross was punched away by Al Habsi and landed at the Hull City man’s feet. His chip bounced off the upright and back into play but was cleared by the Oman defence.

The second half started much like the first ended. However, the pace picked up when the trio of Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on in the 58th minute and gave the Irish the boost it needed. McGeady had a great opportunity to double the Irish lead, 20 minutes into the second period, but the Everton midfielder’s attempt was cleared off the line by Mohammed Al Musalami.

The attacks didn’t stop and the Irish piled on the pressure but the finishing left a lot to be desired. However, on the 81st minute, Brady’s corner was met by captain of the night, Richard Keogh, his slight tap landed to Alex Pearce and the Reading man slotted home a soft shot past Oman’s keeper.

Oman had a few chances as well but their best effort was a long through ball by Hussain Al Hadhri to Saad Al Mukhaini, which was collected by substitute keeper Rob Elliot, who replaced Given for the second half.

After the game, O’Neill commented on the performance and was happy with the win for his squad. “We needed the game and it was nice to win. We would have liked to been further ahead by half time and got the second goal earlier but we played some nice football. My concern would be that when we made a few good passes but it ended with the ball going backwards,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill also comment on the team he had for Sunday with Joey O’Brien and now, James McClean both ruled out of the clash with Georgia through injury. “I was concerned that Joey O’Brien had to go and James McClean is out now too. My concern with James is that he has not had enough game time at Wigan. I want to give him a chance to get ready for later games and not worsen the injury.”

The Ireland manager also admitted he was looking forward to the campaign and mentioned that confidence was high in the camp. “It’s a long road ahead,” claimed O’Neill, “However, we will be ready for it. We won the game tonight and took confidence from it. There was no confidence lost during the summer games. We have only one thing in mind and that is to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”

With the 4 games before the end of the year, 3 of them away including a trip to World Cup winners Germany, O’Neill and Keane will be happy with tonight’s result but know that there will need to be some improvements ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the Georgians.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot 46’), Meyler (Murphy 85’), Keogh (C), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 58’), Gibson (Whelan 69’), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 58’), Doyle (Long 58’).
Substitutes: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.
Goals: Doyle 19’, Pearce 81’
Yellow Cards: Gibson 68’

OMAN: Al Habsi (C), S Al Mukhani, A Al Mukhani, Al Ghailani (Al Busaidi 58’), Al Owaisi, Al Musalani, Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 58’), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 80’), Saleh (Al Mashari 86’), Al Siyani, Hardan (Al Qasmi 58’)
Substitutes: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalbobi, Al Hadhri, Al Ihsi, Almashari.

Referee: Illias Spathas (Greece)

Man of the Match: David Meyler

We are trying to build spirit and confidence – Keane

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Republic of Ireland training sessionIt was a sunny but cold morning on Dublin’s coast as the Republic of Ireland squad trained at Gannon Park. Manager, Martin O’Neill, and his assistant, Roy Keane, kept a close eye on proceedings in Malahide as the Boys in Green prepared for the clash with Serbia on Wednesday night.

There were few concerns regarding injuries at today’s training session. Damien Delaney suffered a knock in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Swansea at the weekend and will join up with the squad later today, according to assistant manager Roy Keane.

John O’Shea will also fly into Dublin later today after his side, Sunderland, lost to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday afternoon. Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington sat out training due to their participation in Norwich City’s 4-1 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday evening. A game, in which, the former of the two players scored the opening goal of the game.

QPR keeper, Brian Murphy is a late addition to the squad replacing Rob Elliot. The Newcastle keeper misses the game due to a knee problem.

The manager has already lost 4 members of his initial 29-man squad with the withdrawals of Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle and Rob Elliot. O’Neill has rested Richard Dunne so he can get more game time at QPR and be prepared for the end of season friendlies. Andy Reid misses the Serbia game due to surgery on a hernia, which is expected to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. Meanwhile, QPR striker, Kevin Doyle has a thigh problem.

Keane praised Reid’s performances of late for Nottingham Forrest. However, he was quick to point out that injuries are part of the game of football. “I’ve seen Reid a few times this year, he has been outstanding. So he is a loss, but that’s the name of the game, players will get injured, particularly at this stage of the season with a lot of demands on them,” said Keane.

When asked about a possible team selection, Keane was quick to respond that the management will have to wait until they hear back from the players and then decided tonight how to dictate training tomorrow ahead of a team selection for Wednesday’s game.

The former Irish captain was asked about the importance of Wednesday night’s match with the high-ranking Serbia but dismissed prioritising games and signalling that each game was as important as the next. “There’s nothing but benefits when winning a game of football”, according to Keane, who also suggested the need to build a spirit before the team goes its separate ways and meets up again at the season’s end.

The assistant manager also shared his thoughts on Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying group. Commenting on the group, Keane said, “It’s very tough, but one we are looking forward to. I know I keep saying we are going to be up against some good teams but we are a good team. So roll on September, we’ll be ready.”

Keane also admitted that his new role had changed the way he looked at games. “Obviously, you have a different mind-set. First and foremost when you go to a match, you keep your fingers’ crossed that the lads are playing. I can go to the games and enjoy the contribution the Irish lads have been giving to their teams. Of course, my mind-set is that is my priority. Before, I would just be going to a match as a fan of football and now it is to make sure the Irish lads are getting involved and doing well,” commented Keane.

Ireland’s assistant manager was also asked about his comments midweek about his old club, Manchester United’s performance in the Champions League against Olympiakos and whether he would say the same to the Irish team if they put on a similar performance. The Cork man thought that his comments during the week and any comments he has made in the past be it as pundit or manager have been “fair.”

Keane refused to comment on the incident at the weekend between Hull City midfielder David Meyler and Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew saying it was, “none of my business.”

Keane was also happy with the improvements made in the Irish set up since he joined with O’Neill late last year. He was pleased with the organisation of the set up and also the number of staff made available to the squad and management. He did admit it was still a work in progress. He was also asked if he rolled his eyes this morning, reading the newspaper reports regarding Mick McCarthy’s comments about Keane’s apology to him about the Saipan incident in 2002. Keane’s reply was simple; “I roll my eyes most mornings.”

The match on Wednesday night in Aviva Stadium will no doubt be an exercise for the management team as they look to September and the opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Georgia. O’Neill will be eager to cast an eye over a range of players as he puts together a squad that will challenge for qualification to the tournament in France from group D.

Serbia have a full strength squad that includes familiar names like Ivanović, Matić, and Kolarov among its ranks. A name that may appear on interim coach, Ljubinko Drulović’s team sheet is that of Stefan Šćepović. The Sporting Gijón forward has scored 17 goals in 26 appearances for his club this season in the Spanish Segunda División.

The game will no doubt be a good test for the Boys in Green as they prepare for the challenge that lies ahead of them in September. A win here will put them in good spirits, as mentioned by Keane and will help build much needed momentum towards Tbilisi on September 7th.

Original story for the The LOI Blog posted here.