Category: Archive

Irish surrender ‘goalan’ heights

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Irish have no divine right to beat Israel, especially since the Israelis have already managed two draws with France in the qualifying group. But from a position of two goals in front at Lansdowne Road, to have to settle for a draw was an indictment of a team that still lacks self-belief and composure at the crucial moments.
Ireland weren’t just 2-0 ahead, they were rampant, dominant and oozing confidence. With Andy Reid delivering pin-point passes, Robbie Keane threatening at every turn and Damien Duff a mesmerizing influence on the wings, Kerr had probably never his side play better.
It didn’t seem to matter that Roy Keane was missing due to suspension. It looked as if the scoreline would be 4-0 at half time.
Then came the turning point. Robbie Keane had damaged his shoulder early in the game, and despite scoring a sumptuous second goal, it was clear he had to be replaced.
Kerr now had a choice. If he sent in the inexperienced Stephen Elliott as direct replacement for Keane the team’s formation would not be disturbed. If he sent in the more experienced Graham Kavanagh, both Duff and Kevin Kilbane would have to switch positions, and the formation of a team that was opening up the Israeli defense at will would be radically altered.
Kerr went for the more conservative Kavanagh option, and with Ireland’s rhythm broken, the seeds for failure were sown.
“Yeah, I thought about Stephen Elliott,” said Kerr, “but you make a call, that’s what you do.”
Not alone was the Irish cohesion suddenly fragmented, but it was clear Israel sensed the change.
Within a few minutes, Ian Harte’s early free kick and Keane’s glorious finish following a perfect Reid assist had been cancelled out.
Yehiel looped a header past Shay Given into the top corner of the net, and then as Ireland’s confidence levels began to drop. John O’Shea clumsily challenged Benayoun in the box, and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty which Nimni dispatched.
It was hard to fathom how such dominance and control could be transformed into such panic. Clearly, the calming influence of Roy Keane was sorely missed in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s first goal. But at least at 2-2, Ireland still had a chance to win the game.
Even if the second half produced a litany of chances – Duff had a couple, O’Shea had another, and substitute Gary Doherty also went close – by hook or by crook the Israeli goal lived a charmed existence.
Predictably, Kerr had sent the pedestrian, but physical, Doherty into the fray with half an hour remaining, and while he did manage to cause some consternation, it was one of those games when the team with all the possession was somehow destined not to score.
Israel’s goalkeeper Aouate did make several excellent saves, but he also indulged in gamesmanship such as time wasting and feigning injury.
As Ireland’s frustration grew, Andy O’Brien was provoked by Aouate, retaliated and was sent off. He will miss Wednesday’s game in the Faroe Islands, as will Robbie Keane whose shoulder injury failed to heal in time. Perhaps the only positive from last Saturday night’s draw is that Roy Keane will return against the Faroes.
We’ve made it a lot harder for ourselves,” conceded Kerr.
Ireland now have to win all four remaining games against the Faroe Islands, France at home, Cyprus away and Switzerland at home to be sure of automatic qualification. That order has suddenly grown a lot taller.

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