Category: Archive

Soccer Scene: Fast start could put Republic in driver’s seat

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joe Behan

For Irish supporters across the world, does anything else really matter except the fact that Ireland beat Iran 2-nil at Lansdowne Road on Saturday?

Truly, who really cares about any other games on the planet? While fans sense the fantastic feeling that Ireland are on the brink of World Cup qualification, fans also know that 2-0 is one of the most dangerous scorelines in the game. If Iran score first in the second leg Thursday in Tehran, then Ireland may fall into the trap of having to defend the one-goal lead, which is always tough to come back from if the opposition levels.

The fact that Mick McCarthy’s heroes are making the daunting journey to Tehran, a few hundred miles from Afghanistan, is the least of their worries. It is how they are treated once they land. It is how the Irish team respond to actually playing and the fear that may face them after the game from hostile home fans. Indeed, this Irish squad are closing the gap on Big Jack Charlton’s episodes.

Under these circumstances, the Irish team have a great leader in McCarthy, who fears nothing at all. No doubt the Irish boss will be under no illusions that he faces an Iranian attack, the tactic that is a must for the opposition. Iran will not be able to afford to go in and be patient. The clock is against them and time waits for no man.

There were 35,000 fans at Lansdowne Road. Tehran’s Azadi Stadium holds more than three times that number. The intense home fans will not want a slow start from their team. Rather, they will expect a flying start. McCarthy knows this, and an early counter for Ireland could surface sending 120,000 fans into disbelief.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

As always, away teams want to keep the crowd quiet, and if Ireland score, it means Iran must hit Shay Given for four. It will be no doubt part of Mick McCarthy’s team talks that a goal may be, or likely will be, the ticket to World Cup 2002. And McCarthy has announced that his side will not be sitting in, as it is not their style. Therefore, fans can expect the Irish to leave everything they have out on the field.

Irish fans should not get caught up with Roy Keane’s injury situation. While Keane has without doubt played out of his skin for Ireland, it will come down to what 11 want it the most with or without him – and at the moment it appears he will not play. The Corkman was brave to take part in the first leg with a knee injury, but that is to be expected from big players in big games. Niall Quinn is the same. The super giant has been plagued by back trouble for some time now and he was not coming off the field in the first round, not Quinner. His experience, should he play, will be huge for Ireland, especially on the field. Quinn is next to impossible to intimidate. Like McCarthy, the Mighty One is a seasoned pro who means serious business. It is because Iran must attack that Quinn, if he is healthy, will be far more effective in this away game.

At Lansdowne, Iran was aware of manning the ground around the big Irish center forward. Thing is, Iran must release at least one of those marking players to help out in their attack, and that will create some space for a counter of Quinn’s head. It’s lethal to have a weapon like Quinn up top in these games. Regardless if he hits form or not, Ireland is guaranteed 100 percent from their veteran striker, who, let’s not forget, is Ireland’s leading goal grabber. However, it is his partner up top that all eyes are on. The irresistible Robbie Keane.

O’Leary has forewarned that Keane is close to hitting form for Leeds and country. Keane has battled his way into the Leeds team that now sits on top of the premier. With Alan Smith out injured, Keane got in the back door and is beginning to look like his old self. He is looking his crafty again and his movement is now more effective than ever. He has got some world-class vision on the ball and once his technique becomes more consistent, he will mature into one of the best. He can start working on this tomorrow and in front of 120,000 fans there is no better man.

There was a time when Ireland’s front line was a major concern. It looks now that they have peaked. Robbie Keane knows he must produce and he sure looks a lot fitter.

The Robbie Keane-Quinn partnership is backed up by Matthew Holland, who continues to prove a very shrewd performer in midfield. In behind Holland is the old warhorse himself, Steve Staunton, who reunites with Gary Breen. Perhaps the central defenders frighten the Irish support, but they have proven themselves in the green shirt against world-class opposition on the road. But the player who is now becoming of age is Shay Given. The Irish goalkeeper must take his country into the finals to prove that he is finished making blunders after outstanding games and saves. He was on song in the first outing and made some incredible saves. His confidence is getting there and a solid performance against Iran would put Given on top of the world.

This is a young Irish team and they are growing at a rapid rate. There was a noticeable difference in the level of professionalism against Iran. It was noticeable that the Irish players play more competitive football on a weekly basis. Iran’s Saturday when he tripped up Jason McAteer to give Ireland that Ian Harte penalty just on the half. It was so close for Iran to come in 0-0 at Lansdowne and the Irish team was pumped walking off for the halftime talk.

It was evident that the Irish came out with a mission to make the World Cup when Robbie Keane hit the back of Iranian net within 8 minutes. But after the hour the Iranians began to put some good stuff together and indeed Shay Given saved the day for Ireland with a brilliant shutout. It is a concern that the Irish have been under the gun in the last 20 minutes of most games that they have played. It’s also a concern that McCarthy hasn’t really corrected this problem, which is extremely bothersome to the typical Irish supporter.

McCarthy has warned that playing Iran is a difficult fixture. Every fixture is difficult in International football, make no mistake about that. Nonetheless, it’s time to talk about winning, especially in the last game. Yes, Ireland face a daunting task in Tehran against Miroslav Blazevic’s Iran and 120,000 fans, but supporters couldn’t ask for a better stage for their heroes to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. This is one the Irish team will want very badly and no other game in the world really matters for the Irish fans.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese