Ireland leave it too late to mount a comeback

FT: Ireland 2-3 Russia

A little over two years ago at Euro 2008 – Russia, who at the time were the youngest team competing in the tournament (15 of which still remain in the squad) were expected to achieve big things. However, that didn’t happen. Granted, Russia did make it to the semi-finals of the tournament before being dispatched 3-0 by Spain but since then they have failed to make much of an impact, failing to make the World Cup finals in South Africa after losing in the play-offs to Slovenia.

Last night was a hugely important game for Russia as they took on Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland. Having been defeated by Slovakia last month, this was essentially a must win game for the Russians or a game “we cannot lose,” as admitted by Dick Advocaat in his pre-match press conference on Thursday.

Ireland went into the game on high, after their main rivals for first place, Slovakia, whom they play on Tuesday night, were soundly beaten 3-1 by Armenia. The signs were encouraging. And the home side almost got off to the perfect start having a plethora of chances all at once on the eight minute – McGeady a save from Akinfeev, Keane, Doyle and the crossbar all involved.

Two minutes later at the other end of the field Richard Dunne gave away a free-kick that lead to the opening goal. Andrei Arshavin whipped in the set-piece which was initially saved by Shay Given, the ball then fell for Dzagoev who squared it for Zenit St Petersburg striker Kerzhakov. That goal opened the floodgates for Russia who gradually grew in confidence and started to go from strength to strength.

Going into the game, Ireland had only lost three of their last 40 games at home but they looked to be up the creek without a paddle as Russia took a two goal advantage on the 28th minute of the first half. Fantastic working of the right-wing from the Russians, as the Irish left far too much space with Aiden McGeady not tracking back to defend, Dzagoev scores with a neat finish under Given from about eight yards out.

Ireland went into the break two goals down and seriously looked to be lacking a Plan B, this wasn’t helped when Russia came out of the blocks for the second-half and grabbed a third goal, which looked to be game over, if it wasn’t already for Ireland. Shirokov ran at the defence who were already tracking back before taking a shot from distance which deflected off Richard Dunne – Given had no chance and could only pick the ball out of the back of the net.

With a game on Tuesday night away to Slovakia, Trapattoni began to re-shuffle the deck by firstly, bringing on Shane Long to replace Liam Lawrence on the hour mark, before replacing Glenn Whelan with Darron Gibson and Keith Fahey came on for Kevin Doyle ten minutes later. Surprisingly, Paul Green, who was poor and clumsy throughout, was left on the field to finish the full 90 minutes.

This was all before Ireland mounted their mini-revival which begun when they were given a penalty (which didn’t look to be one) in the 71st minute. Up stepped Robbie Keane to slot home yet another international goal. Ireland gradually found their feet that they had initially lost after the opening ten minutes, albeit it was far too late. A second goal looked to be imminent as Ireland pressed Russia. The goal finally came seven minutes after the last.

It all came from the half-way line where Russia conceded the free-kick. The ball was left to Given to lump in into the box with all the boys from the back going forward, after a scramble in the box the ball eventually fell to substitute Shane Long who managed to knocked ball past Akinfeev. But sadly, the comeback ended there for Ireland.

Had Ireland managed to secure the draw it would have been totally underserved and it would have only papered over the cracks of what was a very poor Irish performance. The key difference in the game was Russia played for the full 90 minutes, while on the other hand, Ireland played the opening 10 minutes and the closing 15 minutes. Before last night four points looked to be a reasonable target from the two games, now, we go to Slovakia on Tuesday in what will be a ‘must win game’ for both sides.

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