Ireland need to focus on winning mentality

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Aiden McGeady

Writing in his pre-match notes, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill was clear that despite the numerous absentees from the Austrian squad that this match was going to be tough. The manager was also cooling the talk in the build-up to the match that a win in this game could allow the start of talk of booking the flight to Russia. “We have reached the half-way stage in our Group, so there are still a lot of points to play for, as you would expect. It has been a tough road so far and that will remain so until the last qualifying game,” said O’Neill.

Surely even the Irish manager didn’t expect his team to perform so poorly for most of the game against a weakened side. The Boys in Green started with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jonathan Walters the lone striker. The layout of the team was a head-scratcher and questions will be asked of why O’Neill decided to start with two defending midfielders rather than go out with a more attacking intent.

The visitors, with their depleted side, emphasised an attacking approach lining out with a 4-3-3 formation and hoping to pile on the pressure on the home side. They did just that. The Irish were hopeless for the first half. Despite a better passing accuracy than the Austrians, the Irish just could not move the ball about and did not seem up for the match as a whole. Robbie Brady seemed disinterested and Shane Duffy unable to connect a pass from out of the back.

The home side’s formation choice didn’t last and was switched to a 4-4-2 with McClean joining Walters up front. This gave the Austrian defence a bit of trouble but the Irish passing or the lack thereof, gave little worry to the Austrians and it wasn’t until the last quarter of the game did the Irish turn up the attacking pressure on their visitors. It did pay off with five minutes to go as Walters gave it is all to beat a defender from a Brady long ball and slotted it into the bottom right hand of the goal. The Irish could and probably should have won it from there. Less than two minutes later, Shane Duffy’s head connected with the ball and it ended up in the back of the net. However, it was ruled a foul on an Austrian defender who ended up in the bottom of the net along with the ball. It was big call and the Irish will be frustrated by the decision. There was also another big decision with a potential penalty after it seemed as if Walters was tripped in the box by a defender. It was a soft challenge but it could have easily been ruled as a penalty any other day.

A real question needs to be asked though. After such a big build up to the game and the hope of three important points in the bag, do the Republic of Ireland have a problem with mentality when labeled as favourites? One only has to draw on the memories of the infamous 0-0 draw away to Liechtenstein over 20 years ago. Ireland was ninth in the world at the time and they were expected to stroll to an easy win against the minnows. Yet they left the small Central European nation with a point, something which was a major set back in the qualifiers for Euro ’96 which we ultimately did not qualify for.

However, fans and journalists alike need to look at the whole picture. The season has just ended with many of the players focused on the survival of relegation or promotion pushes. I can appreciate their willingness to focus on club careers. At the end of the day it is, it is the clubs who pay big money to ensure the players perform to the best of their ability week in and week out. However, you would like to see the players cap off their season with a strong performance for their International side especially after such a strong start to the group. Austria was there for the taking even missing defender Andreas Ulmer who decided to get married instead of helping his nation to a possible victory. That was the kind of thing Ireland should have jumped upon and ensured a strong narrative in the group moving towards the latter stages of qualifying.

An old Roy Keane quote came to mind after the Republic’s controversial loss to France in the 2010 World Cup playoff. “France were there for the taking and Ireland didn’t do it. Same old story,” said Keane, then manager of Ipswich Town. “I’d focus on why they didn’t clear it. I’d be more annoyed with my defenders and my goalkeeper than Thierry Henry. How can you let the ball bounce in your six-yard box? How can you let Thierry Henry get goal-side of you? If the ball goes into the six-yard box, where the hell is my goalkeeper?” I wonder if this will be ringing in Keane’s mind watching back on the Austrian goal. A strike from Martin Hinteregger after a ball from a David Alaba corner.

In his post-match comments, O’Neill made light to the fact that the corner was a result of a move that started from an Austrian handball, Dragović the culprit. While almost everyone in the Aviva would agree that it was a handball by the defender. Surely, the Irish should have cleared the ball or have done a better job at marking during an attacking set piece? I am sure the management will, of course, look at this behind closed doors and will analyse the goal in the aftermath of the game but it is a tad egregious to blame the refereeing for the goal, despite the referee having a poor game.

However, there were some standout players in the match for the home side. Both Jonathan Walters and James McClean paced around the pitch looking for the right pass or attempting to get into some space to create a movement. The Stoke City man, in particular, was allowed little opportunity to create much for most of the game, being marked tightly by Bayer Leverkusen’s Aleksandar Dragović. McClean also had a moment to equalise the game with ten minutes remaining but hit the ball first time and striking it high and wide.

Kevin Long also had a fine first start in central defence and he will be hoping to cause a selection headache for his manager when selecting the sides for the next set of games in September. O’Neill was impressed with the former Cork City player’s handling of the pressure of being selected for such an important fixture.

The result will no doubt be welcomed by the Serbians, who kick-off later in evening against Wales, who themselves desperately need a result to keep their World Cup dreams alive ahead of a home fixture against the Austrians in September.

The Irish will now be keeping a close eye on the fixture this evening with O’Neill, Keane and the rest of the Irish management going back to the drawing board in the morning to study what Ireland need to fix ahead of the last four remaining fixtures of this qualifying stage. A little bit of encouragement and belief that this squad can qualify for its first World Cup in 16 years will no doubt help but as the manager suggested in his pre-match notes there a long road ahead with points to be won and lost by all the sides in this group. Hopefully, for Ireland’s sake and those who follow the Boys in Green, there is more won than lost.

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Long, Duffy, Ward (Murphy 55′), Brady, Whelan (C) (McGeady 77′), Hendrick, Arter (Hoolahan 71′), McClean, Walters

Substitutes: Westwood, Doyle, Pearce, O’Shea, Keogh, O’Kane, Horgan, Hourihane, Hayes
Goals: Walters (85′)
Yellow Cards: Brady (29′), Christie (32′)

Austria: Lindner, Lainer, Dragović, Prödl, Hinteregger, Baumgartlinger, Junuzović (Grillitsch 79′), Alaba, Lazaro, Burgstaller (Harnik 75′), Kainz (Gregoritsch 90′)

Substitutes: Bachmann, Kuster, Wimmer, Laimer, Stangl, Schaub, Klein, Danso, Alar
Goals: Hinteregger (31′)

Referee: David Fernández Borbalan (ESP)

 

Robbie Seals His Goodbye With A Goal

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Robbie Keane

It was the night that the Republic of Ireland said goodbye to one of its true legends. After 146 caps and 68 goals for his country, Robbie Keane wore the famous green jersey for the last time. Ireland’s record goalscorer came into this match needing a single goal to equal Gerd Müller’s tally in the all-time international goalscorer list. 4 goals and he would have broken the top 10. One goal was all that was needed as the Irish captain sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was all that the crowd, press, the management and Keane himself wanted – the perfect send off.

The Irish captain was knocking on the door in the early stages of the game and came close a couple of times. The best of the bunch being a chip over Oman goalkeeper, Faiz Al Rushaidi after a one-on-one. However, the effort just went inches over the bar. It would have been the perfect goal and send off for the Keane. However, he wasn’t to be denied. Already a goal up after a splendid Robbie Brady free-kick in the seventh minute, Keane scored with a nice little volley after lifting the ball over defender Mabrook with his right foot and without taking his eyes off the ball, he connected again with his right foot and there was nothing Al Rushaidi could do as the back hit the back of the net.

Robbie Brady was again getting in on the action and was instrumental in the third goal. His cross in from the left met the head of Walters and it sailed again into the back of the net. The Boys in Green were now in flight mode against their Asian opponents.

Half times saw a number of changes for the home side including Darren Randolph replacing Kieran Westwood between the sticks. A debut cap is still on hold for Dundalk’s Gary Rogers. It could be suggested that tonight’s friendly against such weakened opposition, it would have been ideal for O’Neill to give the keeper some invaluable international experience.

The second half much like the rest of the first half after the third goal went in, was the Irish controlling the game in cruise control. Oman never looked like threatening the Irish goal and the Irish fans kept themselves entertained throughout the rest of the match by recreating Iceland’s now famous “Viking Thunder Clap” and belting out “Oh-Ah Paul McGrath” when the man himself appeared on the big screens in the stadium.

However, the best roar of the night was saved for the man of the hour as Robbie Keane was replaced before the hour mark. All 27,0000 or so who came to wave him off, gave him a standing ovation with a chorus of “Keano!” added in for good measure. It was truly the end of one of the most spectacular international careers in Irish footballing history. The emotion did not override the Tallaght man as he walked off the pitch realising this was the last time he would wear the green shirt of Ireland.

Not long after Keane’s departure, Ireland wrapped up the goals with Jon Walters getting his second of the game. The Stoke forward dribbled past the Oman keeper. His shot from a tight angle went between a defender’s legs before rolling into the net. It was a nice finish to the goal and will no doubt boost Walters confidence going into the game next week against Serbia.

At the final whistle, Keane gave a farewell speech to crowd thanking them for their support throughout the years. Undoubtedly, his spotlight was stolen, all but temporarily, by his youngest son, Hudson. Keane Jr. had the crowd in the palm of his hands as he tried to steal the microphone from his Dad. A chorus of boos rained down as Hudson was removed so the man of the hour could keep talking to his audience.

Keane walked down the tunnel, passing through a guard of honour of his now former teammates. Robbie showed no emotion throughout, admitting at the press conference after that it will probably take a few weeks for it to sink in that he is no longer a Republic of Ireland player.

He was grateful to manager, Martin O’Neill for giving him one last opportunity to pull on the jersey in front of the home crowd. O’Neill, in turn, was happy with the send off his captain received from the home crowd. He praised his international career and believed his goal scoring record won’t be broken for a long time.

The focus now shifts to the trip to Belgrade and the first of the 2018 World Cup qualifying games against Serbia. The manager and players alike will be in a buoyant mood ahead of Monday. They are well aware that this will be a tough group and an away win will be a great start to a long campaign.

REP. OF IRELAND: Westwood (Randolph 45′), Christie, Wilson, Clark, Brady (Ward 45′), Quinn (O’Dowda 64′), Whelan (Hendrick 45′), Arter, Long (McClean 45′), Keane (C) (Hoolahan 57′), Walters

Substitutes: Rogers, Keogh, Murphy, Meyler, Pearce, McShane, O’Kane
Goals: Brady (7′), Keane (29′), Walters (33′, 62′)
Yellow Cards: Wilson (70′)

Oman: Al Rushaidi, Almukhaini, Al Muqbali (Aal Sbdulsalam 87′), Al Saadi, Al Mushaifri (Al Mukhain 45′), Bait, Al Khaldi, Mabrook, Al Malki (Al Shuabi 75′), Saleh, Al Shyadi

Substitutes: Al Rawahi, Al Habsi, E.M. Al Farsi, Al Maashari, Al Fazari, Al Busaidi, Al Jalaboubi, Al Yacqubi, Al Alwai, Al Ghassani, Al Amri, Alfarsi
Yellow Cards: Al Saadi (50′)

Referee: Demetries Masias (CYP)

Elliot Injury Sours O’Neill’s Night

Republic of Ireland Team
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The Republic of Ireland shared the spoils with their Slovakian visitors on a night that was overshadowed by what looks like a season-ending injury to Newcastle Untied goalkeeper Rob Elliot and denting his chances of a place in the Irish squad heading to France this summer. The Slovakians kept the hosts busy throughout the game. However, star player Marek Hamšík had a quiet night in Dublin in front of a quiet Aviva Stadium, which included Wales (Slovakia’s Euro 2016 Group B opponents) manager, Chris Coleman among those in attendance.

It was an entertaining first half for the 30,00o plus who travelled to the Aviva Stadium with four goals in the first 45 minutes. It was the Slovakians who went ahead thanks to an error from Paul McShane, the first of many on a bad night for the Reading defender. His mistimed header on the half way line landed at the feet of Erik Sabo, who launched down the right wing and worked his way into the box. His pass made it to Miroslav Stoch, who was unmarked and with a first touch slotted it past Rob Elliot. The Newcastle ‘keeper looked to have landed awkwardly when coming down from the attempted save.

Commenting on the injury after the match, O’Neill said that the early prognosis was knee ligament damage and that it was a huge blow to the player after rebuilding his career and confidence. He wouldn’t be drawn on speculation that the injury will bring an early end to Elliot’s season.

Two penalties in the space of two minutes, helped bring the Irish back into the game. Firstly, goalkeeper, Matus Kozáčik brought Shane Long down near the touchline with the keeper softly catching the striker on the foot. Long slotted home the penalty without haste. Not much time passed before Long burst into the area again, only for captain Martin Škrtel to bring down the Southampton striker in the area. Arguably, another soft penalty given by the referee. This time it was James McClean, who stood up and scored to put The Boys in Green in the lead.

The game started to settle and there was pressure created from both sides. Sabo added to his assist with a yellow card after a pair of late challenges on James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan. The latter having to pull away the angered Everton midfielder from the Slovakian winger.

Then as half time approached, the visitors were allowed back into the game. Peter Pekarík broke into space on the edge of the right hand side of the box. He chipped the ball before it managed to cross the line to Robert Vittek who headed it down towards goal. The ball took a detour off McShane’s chest and slipped past substitute keeper, Darren Randolph. Speaking after the game, O’Neill felt that Vittek had used his fist to guide the ball.

The game fizzled out in the second half with the tempo of both sides dropping. With the substitution of Long at half time – this gave O’Neill the liberty to play around with the team in terms of shape and test out different players. While this game may not be remembered from a fan’s point of view, it will certainly help shape the formation of the 23 man squad that will represent the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships this summer.

REP. OF IRELAND: Elliot (Randolph 15′), McShane, O’Shea (C) (Pearce 45′), Whelan, McCarthy, Long (Brady 45′), McClean, Christie, Ward (Hayes 78′), Hoolahan (McGeady 72′), O’Kane (Pilkington 66′)

Substitutes: Forde, Coleman, Keogh, Meyler, Quinn, Clark, Gleeson, Duffy, Judge, Doherty
Goals: Long (21′), McClean (23′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (66′)

Slovakia: Kozáčik, Pekarík, Škrtel (C), Greguš (Hrošovský 74′), Šesták (Weiss 63′), Stoch (Mak 63′), Vittek (Nemec 63′), Sabo (Duda 63′), Saláta, Hamšík, Švento (Tesák 88′)

Substitutes: Mucha, Dúbravka, Ďurica, Tesák, Hubočan, Ďuriš
Goals:  Stoch (13′), McShane (OG 45′)
Yellow Cards: Sabo (31′), Pekarík (63′), Greguš (70′)

Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (NOR)

Walters books Ireland’s place in France

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Republic of Ireland

Jonathan Walters booked the Republic of Ireland’s place at next summer’s European Championship in France with a fine display against a lacklustre Bosnian side in Dublin on Monday night. After a solid performance last week in Sarajevo, Martin O’Neill’s men that either a goalless draw or a win would seal their destiny. It was to be the Stoke man’s night as his two goals secured the plane tickets and consecutive appearances in the European Championship for the first time.

The Boys in Green were the dominant team in the first half. They looked comfortable on the ball and their passing was close to being perfect. The visitors on the other hand looked uncomfortable and at times it seemed as if they had trouble settling into the game.

The Irish showed some glimpses of class in the early stages of the half. Robbie Brady played a nice one-two with Wes Hoolahan on the left side of box. They managed to put the defence on the back foot but unfortunately, Asmir Begovic was on hand to prevent the ball returning to Hoolahan, who had some space to shoot. 

Martin O’Neill’s men were definitely up for it and they kept pouncing at the Bosnian defence, putting them under pressure and forcing mistakes. The Bosnian’s also showed they were no pushovers with some aggressive play within the half. Defender, Emir Spahic showed that his side was unwilling just to sit back throughout the 90 minutes. Half way through first 45 minutes, the Hamburg defender clattered into Jeff Hendrick to the floor. The referee had no problem reaching into his pocket and pulling out the first yellow card of the night.

Then the big talking point of the game happened. Daryl Murphy attempted to whip in a cross into the box. However, his effort was blocked by the hand of Erwin Zukanovic. Referee Bjorn Kulpers had no hesitation to point to the spot for a penalty. Walters stepped up confidently, sending former teammate, Begovic the wrong way and slotting the ball into the bottom left hand corner.

The Irish returned to the pitch for the second half and seemed to drop the pace initially. The visitors began to pile on some pressure in an attempt to make the tie all square. Bosnia also turned up the aggression as well. Sead Kolasinac seemed to strike defender Seamus Coleman in the face while walking away from a failed corner attempt. The referee missed the incident but gave a free kick nonetheless.

Spahic was also involved in some controversial incidents and the defender was lucky to still be on the pitch after some late challenges. Ireland were also lucky to have 11 men on the pitch after the final whistle. Substitute James McClean, was booked not long after coming on to the pitch and made some questionable challenges despite already having his name in the referee’s book.

Walters then added Ireland’s second goal of the night. Brady, whose set pieces had been mixed all night, whipped in a free kick from towards the area. The Bosnian defence tried to clear the attempt but ball landed at the feet of striker, Walters, who fired the ball low and past Begovic. The home crowd went wild as it hit home that Ireland were on their way to France next summer.

The visitors were quiet for the rest of the game. Their game was sloppy at times and they failed to trouble the Irish. Vedad Ibisevic came close in injury time to getting a goal back, however, his effort cracked off the woodwork. The Irish were not to denied the win and a clean sheet to match.

With qualification now secured, attention will turn to the draw in Paris on December 12th. The team and fans alike will be glued to their TVs to see who the Irish will face next summer – the dream of Whelan vs. Ronaldo is well and truly alive!

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (C) (O’Shea 91′), McCarthy, Hoolahan (McClean 54′), Murphy (Long 54′), Walters

Substitutes: Forde, Henderson, Wilson, McGeady, Keane, Christie, Ward, Gibson, Arter
Goals: Walters (23′, 69′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (58′), Long (84′)

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Begovic, Cocalic (Besic 45′), Spahic, Kolasinac, Vranjes, Medunjanin (Djuric 69′), Pjanic, Dzeko (C), Lulic (Ibisevic 80′), Zukanovic, Visca

Substitutes: Buric, Sehic, Bicakcic, Hodzic, Susic, Sunjic, Hajrovic, Hadzic, Salihovic
Yellow Cards: Spahic (19′), Lulic (24′), Djuric (93′), Dzeko (93′)

Referee: Bjorn Kulpers (NED)

Long the hero on famous night in Dublin

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Republic of Ireland team celebrate

It was a historic night in Dublin, as the Republic of Ireland beat the odds to inflict a 1-0 defeat on World Champions, Germany in Group D of the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Substitute Shane Long scored a terrific goal that left the destiny of the Boys in Green in their own hands. A win or 2-2 or higher scoring draw against Poland on Sunday will see Martin O’Neill’s men qualify automatically to next summer’s finals in France.

The first half was all the visitors. Germany were pressing hard against the Irish defence and practically owned the ball for the first quarter of the game. Jérôme Boateng had an early effort to put the Germans a goal up within the first ten minutes. The Bayern Munich midfielder had plenty of time to get his head on the ball from a corner. Fortunately, his effort sailed over the crossbar. An early escape for Ireland.

The Boys in Green got another lucky escape in the 19th minute. Thomas Müller was given a lot of time with the ball on the left hand side of the pitch. The striker picked out Arsenal man Mesut Özil who tipped the ball just right and it crept past Shay Given and into the back of the net. However, the Germans didn’t have time to celebrate as the assistant’s flag was raised for an offside. It was a terrific decision by the linesman as the midfielder drifted past the Irish defence’s high line.

The Irish failed to press forward except for the odd chance. One of the funnier moments of the half occurred when Wes Hoolahan picked up the ball at the halfway line but could not spot a green jersey to pass to. The Norwich winger did something one would do if playing FIFA on the Playstation…he ran around in a small circle until someone was available.

The Irish did have a few efforts on goal. The best of the (very small) bunch, began with a nice one-two between Hoolahan and Jon Walters. Walters then tried to slip the ball low and past Manuel Neuer but was undone by the German defence who blocked the effort.

There was also disappointed towards the end of the first half. After keeping the visitors at bay, keeper, Shay Given was forced off with what looked like a bad leg injury. The vetern was replaced by Darren Randolph between the Irish posts. The early diagnosis is a twisted knee but there is no update on his availability for Sunday as of writing.

The Irish team came out of the second half with an extra spring in their step. It was as if there was a belief on the field that they could shock their illustrious visitors. However, it was the Germans who had the first good crack at goal. Marco Reus swung in a lovely ball towards Andre Schürrle. The substitute cracked the ball but the effort just sailed over the crossbar.

The Irish then started to make themselves known in the game. They started to move the ball about and at times showed some quality play in an effort to keep possession. Wes Hoolahan and James McCarthy showed their worth with strong performances in the middle of the pitch. McCarthy kept the world champions at bay with some fine tackles, while Hoolahan helped to move the ball forward and create chances in and around the German area.

However, it was down to substitute Long who won the game for the Irish. Darren Randolph’s long ball down the middle of the field, was met by the Southampton striker who brought down the ball and knocked past the defence and blasted it past an oncoming Neuer and into the top left hand corner of the net. The crowd in the Aviva went mad. The reception to this goal was like that of Jason McAteer’s against Holland in 2001 at the old Lansdowne Road. The roar was deafening and the Irish fans were on their feet chanting for the rest of the game. Finally, the “best fans in the world” found their voice.

Speaking after the game, Irish manager Martin O’Neill was obviously delighted to win the game and wasn’t going to think about the Poland game until Friday morning. “I’m ecstatic that we have won the game. You would think that beating the Germans and not being beaten by them at all, taking on the World Champions, would be worth at least deserving to win the tournament but that is not the case,” joked the Irish manager.

With the win, Ireland have secured at least a play off place as they edge towards qualification to France. There will be a big belief in the Irish camp, that they can go to Warsaw and steal three points and an automatic qualifying place from hosts, Poland. In the meantime, they will be soaking up this big win in the Irish capital.

REP. OF IRELAND: Given (Randolph 43′), Christie, Keogh, O’Shea (C), Ward (Meyler 69′), Hendrick, McCarthy, Brady, Hoolahan, Walters, Murphy (Long 65′)

Substitutes: Forde, McShane, O’Kane, Pearce, McGoldrick, McGeady, Keane, Doyle, Gibson
Goals: Long (70′)
Yellow Cards: Hoolahan (89′)

GERMANY: Neuer (C), Ginter (Bellarabi 77′), Boateng, Hummels, Hector, Gündogan (Volland 84′), Kroos, Reus, Özil, Müller, Götze (Schürrle 35′)

Substitutes: Leno, ter Stegen, Mustafi, Rudy, Schweinsteiger, Can, Volland, Krammer, Kruse,
Yellow Cards: Hummels (85′)

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)

Attendance: 50,604

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)

Scotland break Irish hearts in Dublin

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Robbie Brady

The tame boos from the Irish fans were sounded out by the deafening cheers of the Scottish contingent at the final whistle at the Aviva Stadium as the visitors put a huge dent into Republic of Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championship in France. After dominating the first half, a lapse in concentration handed a priceless draw and point to Scotland in Group D.

The first half was fast paced with both teams starting brightly. The Irish were the first to have a crack at goal, after just two minutes, with Jeff Hendrick’s cross attempt collected by David Marshall.

The Scots followed two minutes later with their first effort. Stoke defender, Marc Wilson mistimed his pass to Jeff Hendrick and the ball was picked up by James Morrison. The Scottish midfielder worked his way up the pitch before passing to Steven Naismith. The Everton man’s attempt went across the box and ultimately wide.

The Scot’s best effort in the first half came from Steven Fletcher after just 10 minutes. The striker had the ball from about 20 yards out and hit it with some power that it forced Republic of Ireland keeper, Shay Given to stretch high and use the tips of his fingers to guide the ball over the crossbar.

Tempers flared at times. The game was hardly 10 minutes old, when James McCarthy went in hard on Scotland captain, Scott Brown. The latter was unimpressed by the younger midfielder’s antics and he wasn’t shy to express those feelings. Nonetheless, McCarthy escaped any punishment from the referee and was let off with a warning.

Glenn Whelan followed soon after. However, this time the yellow card was shown by the referee. The Stoke man caught Fletcher with a late standing tackle. McCarthy was again involved in a fracas and was punished accordingly, with a yellow card, after throwing an elbow into the face of Russell Martin. The Scottish defender was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose.

Then came the moment Irish fans were hoping for. After Marshall tipped over a Daryl Murphy header, Robbie Brady swung in the resulting corner. Again it met the head of Murphy. This time his effort landed straight at Marshall who could only parry the effort. The ball landed right at the feet of Jon Walters. The Irish forward only had to tap the ball into the net. He precisely did so and put the Boys in Green ahead just before the break.

The lead wasn’t to last long though. Scotland equalised just after the restart. Shaun Maloney played a lovely one-two with half time substitute Ikechi Anya in the box. Maloney then attempted to the curl the ball to the bottom left of the goal. The ball deflected off Irish captain John O’Shea and sailed past Given. The goal stunned the home fans as they had seen their team throw away a deserved lead.

The game then went full speed as both teams looked for the winner. The Scottish seemed to hold on the ball that bit better than the Irish. They constantly pushed forward at every opportunity that was afforded to them.

The Irish on the other hand, failed to use their opportunities. Robbie Brady, in particular, was poor with his crosses. The Hull City man hit some of them high and wide, especially at points in the game when the team needed balls delivered accurately into the box.

Ireland had a good opportunity on the 75th minute when substitute Robbie Keane got the ball and dummied the Scottish defence, leaving space open to fire a shot. He put a lot of power and accuracy behind the effort. Unfortunately, the ball went straight into the hands of Marshall.

Another Republic of Ireland substitute, James McClean also had a good chance to put the Irish ahead again, from a corner. The Derry man, worked to get the space and put himself high to meet Brady’s ball. However, while the effort connected, the ball went wide off the upright.

McClean was also part of one of the last significant incidents of the game. The Wigan Athletic midfielder, unimpressed with a decision given against his side, got into a war of words with Steven Naismith. It appeared as if McClean grazed his head against Naismith’s. The referee came over to separate the two and gave a yellow card to each player for their troubles.

Speaking after the game, Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill expressed his disappointed with conceding the equaliser to Scotland. However, he stressed that his side are still in with a chance of qualifying for next summer’s tournament in France.

“I thought we were very dominant in the first half. We deserved to be in front. We absolutely fell asleep for the [equalising] goal even though it was going miles wide. Just after half time, we should have closed it down on three different occasions. I thought Scotland got a big lift from that. I thought their best spell was after that, for 10 minutes. I thought we pulled ourselves round and I thought we were going to win it in the end. We didn’t and I am obviously disappointed not to have won,” said O’Neill.

The manager also looked back on his 18 months in charge and is happy with how things have been going for the Boys in Green. “There are a number of players coming through, which, I’m obviously delighted with. However, let us see where we are at the end of the campaign,” O’Neill concluded.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, lamented his side’s second half performance, which helped them secure a point in Dublin.

“For all you say about systems, we couldn’t get ours working. Whether it’s through Ireland pressing, the physical strength. They are a big team. Maybe that stopped us or maybe it was our lack of match fitness. So, we took a look at it at half time and we moved a couple of people about. We never had a chance to see if our system worked. All I know is, a very good player [Maloney] scored a wonderful goal again. A very good player has got us a point,” said the Scottish manager.

Strachan was also impressed by the intensity of match considering it was at the end of the season. He also wouldn’t comment on the group standing saying that “you never know what the points are going to be to get you to qualify.” The Scottish manager, to the amusement of the Irish press, congratulated the referee on his performance and said he was “terrific the whole game” and he helped add intensity to the game.

The Republic of Ireland now have a real fight on their hands to make the Euro finals next summer. They currently sit in fourth place, three points behind today’s visitors. They will travel to Gibraltar next, in early September, followed by a home fixture against Georgia.

Scotland, on the other hand, will face Georgia away, followed by a home fixture in Hampden Park against World champions, Germany, 3 days later. They now sit second in Group D, a point ahead of Germany, who have a game in hand against Gibraltar.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given, Coleman, Wilson, O’Shea (C), Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (McClean 67′), McCarthy, Hoolahan (Keane 73′) , Walters, Murphy (Long 80′)

Substitutes: Forde, Westwood, Keogh, McGeady, Meyler, Christie, Ward, Quinn, McGoldrick

Goals: Walters (38′)
Yellow Cards: Whelan (19′), McCarthy (30′), McClean (88′)

SCOTLAND: Marshall, Hutton, Martin, Mulgrew, Forsyth, Ritchie (Anya 45′), Brown (C) (McArthur 84′), Morrison, Naismith (Berra 91′), Maloney, S.Fletcher

Substitutes: Gordon, Samson, Whittaker, D.Fletcher, Adam, Greer, Robertson, Forrest, Griffiths

Goals: O’Shea (OG 46′)
Yellow Cards: Naismith (88′)

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)