While his players had responded impressively to Keane’s dismissal from the squad during the World Cup, there were a shambles in Moscow on Saturday, slumping to the heaviest defeat during McCarthy’s six years as manager, and conceding four goals for the first time since 1985.
While the stalemate between Keane and McCarthy continues — Keane had pointed out once again that while he wanted to play for his country again, it would only be if McCarthy was no longer the coach — the need for some compromise in a standoff that has intensified since the publication of Keane’s autobiography is now more pressing than ever.
Even before the game in Moscow, McCarthy was fielding questions about Keane’s absence.
“We’re always a better side with him; he’s a world-class player,” he said. “I can’t deny that, but he ain’t here, and he’s not going to be here.”
Then during an embarrassing retreat from Moscow, McCarthy was asked once again about the rift between himself and his former captain.
“I feel the situation is beyond repair,” he said. “I’m getting on with the team I’ve got. These are the lads I’m concerned about, not anybody who doesn’t want to play.”
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Well, the team he’s got let him down badly with a sloppy, inefficient performance. Trailing 2-0 at the interval, there was a glimmer of hope during the second half when sub Gary Doherty headed home, but almost immediately a defensive muddle let Kerzhakov in for Russia’s third goal and that effectively ended any hope Ireland had of a revival.
The root of McCarthy’s problems was in defense, where new captain Kenny Cunningham and Gary Breen were at sea, while the usually dependable Steve Finnan had a nightmare game at right back. Equally, the customary workrate and vision of Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland in midfield was sorely missing as both players failed abjectly to leave any mark on the contest.
Kevin Kilbane was also a major disappointment, and the Irish cause wasn’t helped when Damien Duff had to limp out of the action after 18 minutes. Only the tireless Robbie Keane and the two subs, Doherty and Clinton Morrison, who scored the second goal, emerged with any credit. After Kariaka and Bestastnykh had scored for the winners in the first half, Kerzhakov headed the all-important third following some dreadful defending by Cunningham before an own goal by Phil Babb rounded off a depressing night for the Irish, whose next Group 10 game is against Switzerland, 4-1 winners over Georgia, at Lansdowne Road on Oct. 16.
Valery Gazzayev, in his second start as Russian coach, hailed his team’s victory over battle-tested Ireland at the Lokomotiv Stadium as “a great victory for Russian football.”
“You just witnessed the rebirth of a new team and this is a great start for us,” said Gazzayev, who took charge after the Russians’ poor World Cup campaign.
With McCarthy ruling out talks with Keane, who underwent a hip operation last week that could keep him out of action until late November, the FAI said it has no intention of getting involved in the issue and that it is solely a matter for the manager.