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

Republic of Ireland run riot in the Aviva

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Republic of IrelandOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

It was over before it began with the Republic of Ireland tearing apart Gibraltar 7-0 at the Aviva Stadium. It was a good days work for Robbie Keane in particular. The evergreen captain was on fine form as he scored a hat trick in just 18 minutes against the minnows. Goals from James McClean, Wes Hoolahan and a bizarre own goal from Gibraltar keeper, Jordan Perez sealed the victory for the Irish.

Manager Martin O’Neill, had warned against complacency in the build up to this game and his team didn’t disappoint in the opening exchanges with the Irish racking up 50 passes in just under five minutes. The Irish piled the pressure on the Gibraltar defence and they were rewarded for their positive start on the sixth minute when Man of the Match, Wes Hoolahan hit a long ball to Aiden McGeady on the edge of the right side of the box. The Everton winger laid it to Keane who had no problem putting the ball in the back of the net and starting off the evening’s proceedings.

Hoolahan was involved again in the build up to the second and third goal to set up Keane to earn his 64th and 65th goals respectively. The Norwich City man took a lofted pass on to his chest before passing the ball through for Keane’s run, who slotted home past Perez. Minutes later, Perez clattered into Hoolahan after failing to clear a shot efficiently. Keane stepped up and the hat trick was complete.

With those three goals, Keane now becomes the top scorer in European Championship qualifying history at 21 goals and now stands 12th in the overall international scorers list on 65 goals with Didier Drogba.

Hoolahan wasn’t to be denied a goal though after a wonderful performance. On the 56th minute, Keane laid the ball into his path. After skipping through an awful defence, he capped off the move with an easy, low shot to the near post that went past Perez.

O’Neill was happy with Hoolahan’s contribution in the game. “Wes did very, very well. Wes here at the Aviva has never failed to play well and he is good, particularly in a night like this here when we are looking for that little bit of craft to break defences down,” said the Irish manager.

The Gibraltar keeper, Perez, was already having a bad day before a sensational own goal added salt to the wound. Robbie Keane’s attempted chip was batted away by the keeper with the ball landing to McGeady. The midfielder’s shot bounced back from defender on the line with the ball. The ball landed at the feet of Perez, who, one can only presume, tried to clear the ball but instead hoofed it into his own net. I had to look around and make sure I was at the Aviva and not at home playing a game of FIFA.

After conceding two more goals, McClean’s second of the night and Hoolahan’s goal, Perez was hauled off by manager Allen Bula. The entire crowd at the Aviva were on its feet as the hapless keeper made his way off.

The Irish will unquestionably be satisfied with this win ahead of their visit to Germany on Tuesday night. However, all eyes will now be on that trip. There were many positives in the game but there were also glimpses in the game that showed the home side lacking concentration especially in the latter part of the game when Gibraltar were unlucky to at least come away from this game with a goal. Do this against the Germans and it could be the Irish that end up on the wrong side of a mauling.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Forde, Ward (Brady 69’), Wilson, O’Shea, Meyler, McGeady, Hendrick, Gibson, McClean, Hoolahan (Doyle 63’), Keane (C) (Murphy 63’)

Substitutes: Elliot, Westwood, Clark, Whelan, Long, Pilkington, Stokes, Quinn, Walters
Goals: Keane (6’, 14’, 18’), McClean (46’, 53’), Perez OG (52’), Hoolahan (56’)

GIBRALTAR: J.Perez (Robba 59’), Wiseman, R.Casciaro, R.Chipolina (C) (Santos 57’), J.Chipolina, Payas, B.Perez, Bado (Guilling 45’), Walker, Gosling, L.Casciaro

Substitutes: Coleing, Artell, K.Casciaro, Lopez, Sergeant, Priestley, Bosio, Garcia, Hernandez

Referee: Leontios Trattou (Cyprus)

Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan

Honeymoon is over for the Dream Team as Serbia hand O’Neill his first defeat

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Ireland vs SerbiaThe Dream Team of O’Neill and Keane returned to Dublin but it wasn’t the result they were looking for as the Serbians left with a victory over an Irish team, that at times showed some great skill but was still a work in progress.

It was close to being the perfect start for the Irish after James McClean sent in a cross that was struck well by Glenn Whelan into the back of net. The assistant referee ruled the goal offside after judging that Wes Hoolahan was offside. Hoolahan’s foot grazed the ball before going into the goal. However, replays showed that Hoolahan was played onside by Dušan Basta.

It didn’t take long for Ireland to put pressure on the Serbians once again. That pressure paid off when a mix up in communication between captain, Branislav Ivanović, and keeper, Vladimir Stojković, gifted Shane Long the ball, who, without hesitation, chipped the keeper perfectly to score the opening goal of the game.

Serbia then settled into the game and had a handful of chances at goal including a powerful header from Ivanović that was cleared off the line by James McCarthy.  Dušan Tadić also had a great effort on goal. The FC Twente midfielder’s effort from outside the box had to be tipped over the crossbar by David Forde. The Irish seemed to fall off the pace a bit as halftime approached and would carry this into the second half.

This was evident in the second half as Ireland instantly threw away their lead. Some poor play from Ireland, allowed Serbia to pick up the ball outside the box and Aleksandar Kolarov’s pass forced James McCarthy to attempt a block but instead he put the ball into the back of his own net. It was an unfortunate incident for Everton man, who up to that point was having a good game.

Ireland applied some pressure following the goal and Shane Long will be kicking himself that he didn’t restore Ireland’s lead after a perfect ball from Wes Hoolahan set Long on course for his second goal. However, the Hull City striker scuffed his shot after trying to chip the keeper and the look on his face after his attempt summed up his effort.

The Serbians then got the winning goal following some more poor play from Ireland, which led to a scramble in the box with the ball landing at the feet of Filip Dordević. It was an easy tap in for the striker, who played well throughout his time on the pitch.

Both goals summed up the work that needs to be done when the team meets up again. Seamus Coleman had a disappointing game. The Everton defender seemed to lose the ball easily and it could be argued that he was at fault for both of Serbia’s goals.

There were positives to take away from the game though as the combination of Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long looked promising, James McClean also looked well on the flanks, James McCarthy also performed well in the centre of midfield even with his own goal.

The final score was not what fans were looking for, but as Roy Keane had suggested previously the job at hand is a “work in progress” and that was visible. Another test will come in May, as the Boys in Green take on another higher-ranking team in the shape of Fatih Terim’s Turkey.

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.