David slayed Goliath in Dublin. Northern Ireland are booking the camper vans and flights to France as I type and Scotland reflect on where it all went so wrong after a summer of great hope and expectation. Hawkeye Sidekick takes a look at this evening’s action and tries to comprehend how the Republic of Ireland beat Germany at the rocking Aviva Stadium.
Long way home for Deutschland
Shane Long will hate me for saying this but he is becoming the quintessential super-sub for club and country. Sprawled from the warm confines of the bench after sixty-five minutes, the Gortnahoe Glencoole man relished the opportunity and his goal will be replayed when the Ireland sporting year is reviewed. Darren Randolph’s clearance to Shane Long was the pass of the night, exposed Germany’s defensive high line. Shane Long’s pace is underrated as he strode with purpose into the German penalty area. His shot was superbly taken giving Neuer no chance. Cue manic celebrations. Germany try as they might could not break the Republic of Ireland wall albeit how Thomas Muller failed to score from close range at the end of the game is beyond me? This was the classic rearguard action. Republic of Ireland with 33% possession were forced on the defensive pretty much throughout. Germany controlled possession without finding a cutting edge for the most part albeit did create three genuine goal scoring chances from Gundogan, Schurrle and of course that too good miss chance from Muller. Republic of Ireland’s players performed incredibly well despite the pressure exerted by their more illustrious opponents. The back four (relatively inexperienced) grew into the contest. Christie, Keogh, O’Shea and Ward were solid and compact. Christie stood out particularly in the second half, constantly foiling German attacks with blocks. The midfield area was always going to be a hard ask but they were admirable despite the movement and possession enjoyed by the likes of Reus, Ozil and Kroos. McCarthy was his typical abrasive best, winning tackles and providing cover for the back four. Brady and Hoolahan were the marquee ball players who were asked to deliver Ireland’s threat from set piece and open play. Yes, attacking opportunities were limited but both players were prominent in all that was good with Ireland. The ten minute spell before Long’s goal saw Hoolahan in a more advanced role, this led to Daryl Murphy’s chance. Murphy worked tirelessly and John Walters has being the player of the campaign for the Republic of Ireland; his work rate is infectious and his link up with Long in the closing stages meant that the hosts rearguard were able to enjoy some periods of rest. Darren Randolph continued his club form with a confident cameo when Shay Given was forced to withdraw. Ireland management have to be applauded to switch allegiance to Randolph. Forde will feel aggrieved but his lack of first team football with Millwall was the key point. Randolph has featured for West Ham in both league and cup, his form has being consistently good. The win will be remembered for many a year but all eyes are now focused on Warsaw on Sunday. 2-2 draw will be enough for the Republic of Ireland to qualify automatically but not even thinking about it tonight, bask in the glory of an epic triumph. The rearguard of rearguard victories.
Lewandowski Lewandowski Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski had a point to prove with Scotland tonight. During the leadup to this contest, the Bayern Munich striker recalled how his shin pad was broken after a challenge from Scotland central defender Greer when the two side met in Warsaw during this campaign. Lewandowski broke Scotland hearts at the start and the end of the game to rescue a point for Poland who after a promising start retreated into a defensive shell which was never going to hold the lead. Scotland to be fair did enough to win this contest. It was a stirring fightback supported by a passionate home crowd. Ritchie and Fletcher’s smart finishes had Scotland in control entering the 93rd minute but Scotland’s inability to defend the set piece allowed the equalizer to trickle over the line. It was a devastating blow and no time to recover. With the Republic of Ireland beating Germany, the qualification campaign was over. What went wrong? Scotland were in control of their own destiny in August. Four points clear of the Republic of Ireland but it all went downhill as soon as Scotland went to Georgia and lost in early September. The result jolted Strachan’s charges and hesitant defending against Germany meant that the Republic of Ireland were now in third place. Opportunities were lost for Scotland during this campaign. The 2-1 loss to Germany away was a game where Scotland played well and should have come away it at least a point. The Georgia loss away though was the killer result and in a group of fine margins, it was a result which ultimately led to elimination tonight.
What an achievement for Michael O’Neill and the NI players and backroom staff. They have qualified for the Euro 2016 finals courtesy of a 3-1 win over Greece at Windsor Park with a game to spare. Northern Ireland’s work ethic and quality set piece delivery from Norwood and Brunt will always create chances and tonight was proof. Yes, it was a nervy start. McGovern had to produce a smart save on fourteen minutes but once NI asserted midfield dominance, the opening goal was not long in coming. Stephen Davis’s run and glided effort capped off an excellently worked opening goal down the flank. Greece were rattled and NI put the game to bed with a two goal cameo just after the restart. Norwood’s corner delivery setup Magennis’s looping header for two nil and when Davis’ second of the night was scored, it was party time in Belfast. Energetic performances have encapsulated NI’s qualification. Their rock solid defense and ability to launch swift counter attacks away from home caught the eye. NI are worthy finalists. Roll on the draw already. Congratulations